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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.

Fortuna, by Nigel Pennick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yoni Egg, by Lilou Macé

The Yoni Egg: Reveal and Release the Sacred Feminine Within, by Lilou Macé
Destiny Books, 1620558653, 192 pages, September 2019

I’ll admit that I was a bit dubious about yoni eggs at first. But the more I thought about, the more these feelings had to do with a resistance towards bringing my awareness to this part of my body, as it felt a bit shameful and naughty. The Yoni Egg: Real and Release the Sacred Feminine Within by Lila Macé opened me to see the way yoni eggs can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually healing. After reading this book, I’ve found the courage and confidence to begin my own yoni egg practice.

Lilou Macé has dedicated her life to promote the art of creating a healthy and fulfilling life. She has an extremely popular YouTube channel where she shares her wisdom with others. She also organizes events worldwide, naturally creating conscious communities globally.

This book begins with Macé teaching readers about the yoni, providing colorful graphics that give perspective about the area of the female body. She then moves into the yoni eggs, from their origin to their symbolism. Before diving in further, there’s an exercise provided to test how toned you perineum is as a baseline for moving forward with the exercises.

There’s a whole chapter covering the range of benefits working with a yoni egg has for a woman. Some of these include building self-confidence, liberating past memories, preventing your internal organs from dropping, easing PMS symptoms, decreasing incontinency, intensifying orgasm, and rebalancing the libido. Through this section, there’s tons of quotes from people who have first-hand experienced the benefits and share their perspective.

The second part of this book focuses on how to find the perfect yoni egg for your situation. Macé covers all the lifestyles/times in life one might be in the position to use the egg, from being over stress to preparing for childbirth to having undergone an hysterectomy. The key is to understand your intention for using the yoni egg as you make your selection, as different types will have certain benefits. She also helps readers to consider the correct size by considering factors like your current tone, activity level, age, previous surgeries, yoni egg experience, and more.

My favorite part was about the different effects of yoni eggs based on the type of stone. I learned how Nephrite Jade, the stone of harmony, balances masculine and feminine energy while promoting inner-knowledge, while Smoky Quartz, stone of rootedness and stability, provides grounding and balancing between the material and spiritual world. This section is immensely helpful for selecting the type of stone that is best sited for what you wish to accomplish with your yoni egg. Macé also includes guidance on how to spot a fake egg and take care of the egg based on the type of stone it is.

The next half of the book is about actually using the yoni egg. Macé beings with teaching readers how to prepare, insert/remove the yoni egg, and how keep it in you during your practice. All of these things take time, and the main focus is to move at your own pace and not rush through. Lubrication is important, and readers are encouraged to take breaks as needed. There are plenty of colorful pictures for reference to help readers know exactly what to do.

As one’s yoni egg practice develops, Macé asserts readers will be able to better communicate with their yoni egg through programming it with intentions, as well as listening to the wisdom of their yoni more. This practice is a method of attuning oneself to healing and listening to the intuition of the divine feminine within. Macé offers rituals one can do with their yoni egg, such as a writing a special letter or taking a sacred bath, to further deepen their bond with their bodies while using their yoni eggs.

Overall, The Yoni Egg is a wonderful resource for those interested in this healing modality. From enhancing your pelvic floor and vaginal muscles to clearing out lingering emotions and reviving creativity, the benefits of this practice as limitless. Macé is a very gentle guide, who ensures readers are equip with all the knowledge needed to be their own practice. I recommend reading this book before even purchasing your stone, as there’s pertinent information about how to make the best selection. Once you’ve picked out the perfect yoni egg, the rest of the book will be a wonderful initiation into the power of the yoni and sacred feminine within.

The Hermetic Tree of Life, by William R. Mistele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Wands of the Druids, by Jon G. Hughes

Living Wands of the Druids: Harvesting, Crafting, and Casting with Magical Tools, by Jon G. Hughes
Destiny Books, 1644118033, 232 pages, January 2024

I bought my first wand from Neil the Wandmaker, a well-known wand artisan in California. It took me nearly half an hour to select the right wand, picking them up and putting them down as I tried to sense which one was calling to me the most for that moment. While I’ve gotten plenty of use out of my artisan wand, recently, my exploration into the spirituality of Druidism has made me think differently about nature and the tools I use in my craft.

Living Wands of the Druids: Harvesting, Crafting, and Casting with Magical Tools by Jon G. Hughes has completely shifted my perspective into the purpose of a wand and how one might go about crafting their own. Hughes teaches readers how a fundamental principle of the Druid tradition is that the wood from which a wand or staff is crafted must be living. He explains:

“By living we mean that the wood must still contain the vital living sap of the tree from which it has been harvested so that this vital sap may impart the virtues and attributes of the chosen tree to the channeled energy of the adept, enhancing and elevating the adept’s energy and intention as they pass through the heart of the wand.”1

While the focus is on living wands, Hughes takes plenty of time explaining aspects of Druid foundational principles and lore. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to the lore of trees. He describes how Druids believe all living things, including trees obviously, have “three essential components: their physical manifestation, their portion of the communal or world energy (sometimes referred to a world spirit), and their personal energy.”2

All three components must be used when crafting a living wand, making it important to select the right donor tree, which Hughes luckily teaches readers how to do. There are plenty of things to consider, ranging from location of the tree to the season, and once the appropriate tree is selected, Hughes provides a harvesting rite to “maintain the harvested branch’s integrity and potency.”3

Hughes emphasizes how crucial it is to understand the attributes of different tree species when selecting a wand. While this topic could easily comprise an entire book and there are many more tree species than the ones covers, he covers the Druidic lore, wood qualities, and spiritual attributes of ten common trees (and even includes a handy reference chart): apple, birch (silver), elm (wych), hawthorn, hazel, holly, oak, pine (scots), rowan, and yew.

“Eventually, an intimate understanding of each tree and its place in its forest home will develop, and each tree will become a trusted friend. It is then that a connection with the ancient ways will enter the adept’s own spiritual being; a connection with the ancient pagan beliefs and the lore of the Druids will mature within the adept and with this connection and understanding she will grow and fulfill her role in nature’s partnership.”4

Now that readers have activated their connection with the trees, Hughes moves onto wand types. The main wands he covers are rudimentary, entire, compound wands, rods, and staffs. For each wand type, there is a picture provided, and Hughes shares the appropriate use for the wand and how to craft it. Occasionally included further background information to provide a well-rounded understanding for readers, such as the importance of a protective circle and how to cast one.

For more complex wand types, he also includes additional information, such as how to select “entwining botanical”5 (entwined wands) and “wood combinations”6 (compound wands) and adorn a staff. There’s also guidance on creating hooked wands, forked wands, protective bundles, and flying staffs, plus how to use feathers as wands. Lots of really great wand ideas in this section, and readers will feel fully equipped in choosing which one is best based on their intention and crafting it appropriately.

Once the natural materials for the wand have been selected, Hughes leads readers through finding and/or creating an auspicious workspace to craft their wand and then preparing the wand for use through cleansing and potentializing. In regard to finding the right location, Hughes includes diagrams to help readers orient themselves and ensure they are aligning properly with their chosen orientation.

For the preparation section and the following one on using the wand, Hughes writes out exactly what one can say for cleansing the wand, activating its potential, and then using it in bold lettering. I love how what to do, when to do it, and what to say while doing it are all clearly laid out for the reader. I find this incredibly helpful since I often get tongue-tied in ritual, and I appreciate having the structure to follow.

Topics covered for using the wand range from casting with one’s hand as a wand to making one’s own flying ointment to use with their flying staff. There’s so many ways to use the wands, and as readers experiment on their own, they’ll start gaining more confidence in their practice. From attraction to protection, curse-casting to inner contemplation, there’s so many possibilities for the intentions one can set with their wants.

One of the things I didn’t know prior to reading this book was that the original casting device should be kept “If the adept considers that there is even a remote possibility that the intention he has cast will need to be annulled, undone, or reversed…”7 Hughes notes that it’s common to see wands “labeled and stored in their protective wrappings just in case they might be needed to amend the intentions they originally cast.”8 This was helpful to know, and if one does need to do any of the aforementioned magical workings, Hughes has once again provided the ritual wording to do so.

When one feels assured that their work with the wand is complete, the Druidic way is to return the wand to the earth. Hughes writes:

“The protocol of returning all harvested material to its source location is born from the tenant that the balance of nature must be retained at all ties, and that only when botanical material is allowed to decay and reunite with its base matter and spiritual energies, as part of the world reservoir of elemental substance and spirit, may the cosmic balance resin intact, allowing all these precious resources to be used over and over again without depleting or diluting the world’s vital reserves.”9

This feels really resonant for me that the circle comes to completion by giving the wand back to nature. What an absolutely beautiful principle to live by! This sentiment is very different From the dominant materialistic culture focused on consumerism, where the purchased wands created often can never go back to their original source. And yes, there’s a ritual clearly laid out by Hughes for one to return their wand.

Overall, Living Wands of the Druids, is the perfect beginner’s guide to crafting one’s own magical wand. Whether or not one considers themselves a Druid, Hughes makes the material accessible for everyone. He shares a lot about the belief system of lore of Druidism, but there’s never an assertion that one must take any sort of oath or vow to create these living wands. A simple respect for nature and desire to be in harmony with fellow life on the earth is all readers need to draw upon the natural wisdom of the Druids for this practice of crafting living wands.

I gained a deeper reverence for the earth while reading it, as well as a better appreciation and understanding of Druidism in general. I highly recommend this book for those looking to be sustainable in their craft. The art of making living wands is also a reminder we have all we need for our magical practice within nature, emphasizing the importance of maintaining balance and reciprocity with the earth.

Cats, by John A. Rush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soul Journey through the Tarot, by John Sandbach

Soul Journey through the Tarot: Key to a Complete Spiritual Practice, by John Sandbach
Destiny Books, 1644117096, 384 pages, November 2023

I’ve been studying tarot for almost 27 years, but these magical cards contain so much wisdom that there is always something new to learn, and I often feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Most tarot books on the market tend to be geared towards beginners, rehashing the same sets of keywords and interpretations, so I get excited when I find a text that delves deeper into the esoteric teachings of the cards.

In Soul Journey through the Tarot: Key to a Complete Spiritual Practice, author John Sandbach shares his own unique magical system, co-created with his spirit guides and inspired by over 50 years of studying tarot. Sandbach first channeled these oracles in 1976, and wrote this updated edition with the intention that it will be used as “a tool for vibrational healing.”1

He has named the Major Arcana cards depicted in this book the Azoth Deck, and the illustrations were created by South Korean artist Daehee Son.

“Azoth,” Sandbach says, “refers to the spirit and energy of the planet Mercury, who in Egypt was the god Thoth, who was the inventor of the alphabet—the tarot being an alphabet of spiritual forces.”2

Sandbach has changed some of the traditional names of the Major Arcana. For example, as a departure from the final reckoning of Christianity, Sandbach calls the Judgment card “The Awakening,” a title that he feels more accurately captures the core meaning of Arcanum XX. The Devil, Arcanum XV, has been renamed “The Musician,” to avoid the negative connotations of the original title and shift the focus of the card to the inner harmony or discord of the seeker.

The book’s cover claims that this text integrates “numerology, astrology, Kabbalah, and the contemplative life.”3 I wanted to read this book to get a better grasp of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and Hebrew letters in relation to tarot, as well as deepen my understanding of the astrological tarot correspondences. However, I was surprised to find that many of Sandbach’s astrological and elemental associations are completely different from the Golden Dawn attributions I currently use, which I learned from The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic (1984) by Israel Regardie (1907-1985).

Sandbach associates The High Priestess, titled “The Guardian of the Gate (Veiled Isis)”, with Virgo instead of the Moon; The Hermit, titled “The Seeker (The Sage)”, with Aquarius instead of Virgo; The Star, “The Light”, with Gemini instead of Aquarius; and so on.4 The Suit of Coins is assigned the element of Air instead of Earth, and Swords are Earth instead of Air.5 Even though most of these associations don’t resonate with me, I decided to keep an open mind and shift my perspective to include them, at least for the duration of time it took me to read this book.

Sandbach justifies the association of Coins with Air by explaining that exchanging currency for goods is an abstract concept created by the mind, and “the air element resonates with concepts and systems formed through the mental activity of humans.”6 Swords, on the other hand, are practical instruments made of metal, which penetrate the density of matter. These elemental associations have Vedic origins, and relate to the Hindu tattwa system. He borrowed his elemental and astrological associations from The Sacred Tarot by astrologer and occultist C.C. Zain (1882-1951), a work that was a major influence on his approach to tarot.7 Sandbach acknowledges that these are less popular tarot associations, and advises the reader to use whatever correspondences make the most sense to them, because all systems are valid.

“Ultimately,” he says, “we must realize that the four physical elements are not four distinctly different things, but the same thing in different states.”8

This is an excellent point, and it made me more receptive to his alternative elemental associations. 

While I had a hard time connecting with many of these correspondences, the Virgo association with The High Priestess, titled “The Guardian of the Gate (Veiled Isis)” was compelling to me, particularly in how it influenced Sandbach’s interpretation of the card. Virgo rules the digestive system, and the message of the High Priestess is to “be watchful of what you ‘eat,’ whether it be food, thoughts, emotions, concepts, or vibrations.”9 I personally associate The High Priestess with Persephone, whose fast was broken by pomegranate seeds while she was in the Underworld, so the digestion message really spoke to me. The Moon, which is usually the planetary association for this card, is considered to be the ruler of Virgo in esoteric astrology, and knowing this reinforces the validity of Virgo as an alternative astrological association for the High Priestess.

The most unique tarot associations Sandbach gives are spirit names in the intergalactic Language of Space. “This universal constructed language, known as aUI,” Sandbach says, “was originally received from extraterrestrial beings by psychologist and linguist Dr. John Weilgart (1913-1981) in the early 1950s.”10 aUI (pronounced “ah-OO-ee”) is a sound-based language, and the aliens who transmitted it to Dr. Weilgart told him that it had been spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.11

Sandbach gives a spirit name in aUI for each major arcana card and supplies the correct pronunciations for the reader. For example, the spirit name for the High Priestess (Veiled Isis) is ytlUkU (pronounced “yit-LOO-koo”).12 Sandbach says these spirit names were channeled by him and belong to entities associated with the cards.

“The letters of aUI and their sounds can be used for contemplation and to make up your own magical words,” Sandbach says.13

What a fascinating concept! Even if a reader doesn’t agree with Sandbach’s tarot associations, the chapter on the Language of Space is intriguing.

I draw a daily tarot card for myself almost every morning, and I decided to apply Sandbach’s interpretations while reading his book. One of the cards I drew was Strength from The Bones Arcana.

Sandbach calls Strength “Arcanum XI: The Maiden (The Enchantress)” and associates her with the planet Neptune. I love the title “The Enchantress,” which brings to mind the Greek witch goddess Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios, who was accompanied by lions in the Odyssey and transformed Odysseus’s crew into pigs. I tend to prefer numbering this card 8 instead of 11 because I associate it with Leo, and the eighth month of August. Sandbach’s Neptune association aligns with the belief of some modern astrologers that Neptune is exalted in Leo.

Sandbach says of “The Enchantress” that “she has gained ascendancy over one of nature’s most powerful creatures, and she has accomplished this through the actualization of her psychic power, as well as through her love.”14 Sandbach’s description of Strength as “the arcanum of psychic power,”15 reminded me again of Witch Queen Circe. In the Odyssey, she was a loner who lived on the uncharted island of Aeaea. She was a master of illusion magic, involving shapeshifting and crafting potions, and she revealed the bestial natures of those who invaded her privacy by transforming them into animals.

All of these skills have a very Neptunian quality to them. Neptune is the hypnotic and bewitching planet of dreams, fantasies, glamor, illusions, mysticism, and drugs (or potions, in Circe’s case). Circe was the daughter of the sun god Helios, and Sandbach says the Sun is the root ruler of this card, while Neptune is the “therapeutic agent.”16 After exploring the Circe connection I made to the Strength card, I appreciate Sandbach’s Neptune association much more. 

Sandbach’s system is a radical departure from what most tarot students are probably familiar with, and this reminds me of the differences between tropical (Western) astrology and sidereal (Vedic) astrology. Western astrology is more popular, but both systems are equally valid. Tarot readers influenced by occultist C.C. Zain will likely resonate with Sandbach’s system, while those who have memorized the Golden Dawn’s tarot associations may find these correspondences a bit more difficult to integrate.

Sandbach claims that the system he uses, which is modeled after Zain’s work, “is a therapeutic or healing system,” while the more common associations, which he says are based on the Kabbalistic text titled the Sepher Yetzirah (the “Book of Formation,” or  the “Book of Creation”), encompass “the root, or actual system.”17 Approaching his associations as a complementary healing system may help readers blend Sandbach’s method with the one they currently use.

Initially I was resistant to the teachings in this book because I was hoping to expand my understanding of the Golden Dawn associations, not learn a completely new system. However, being receptive to correspondences I didn’t agree with and exploring them with open-minded curiosity helped me glean new insights about the cards. I think any experienced tarot reader will benefit from questioning and reevaluating the associations they have memorized by being open to alternative ones or intuitively assigning their own. After all, when used as a tool for spiritual growth, tarot expands consciousness and opens our minds to new possibilities, so the archetypal images have infinite layers of interpretation. In this light, Soul Journey through the Tarot can help seasoned readers rediscover tarot and tap into new ways of relating to the cards.

Tarot Life Lessons, by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Tarot Life Lessons:  Living Wisdom from The Major Arcana, by Julia Gordon-Bramer
Destiny Books, 9781644118177, 216 pages, November 2023

In Tarot Life Lessons: Living Wisdom from The Major Arcana, Julia Gordon-Bramer endeavors to “heal the world”1 with her personal stories and those of her clients from 40 years of tarot card readings.

Gordon-Bramer picked up her first tarot deck at 16 and began her journey, and along the way, she became an award-winning author and poet, professor, and host of her own radio show turned podcast called Mystic Fix.  She currently lives in St. Louis, MO.  You can learn more about Gordon-Bramer on her website.

In the book’s introduction, Gordon-Bramer shares:

“The tarot is a tool to awaken and tame the subconscious, to help us grow our strengths and make changes when we identify our weaknesses. It’s a way to conquer problems and move on from painful situations and the baggage we carry through life.”2

Within this book, Gordon-Bramer shares stories from readings she has done in regard to the Major Arcana, the first 22 cards in most tarot decks. She references the Universal Rider-Waite tarot and features drawings of cards from this deck in this book. These major arcana cards “represent the key players and milestones in life, the sacred adventure from birth to death. Those are my primary focus in this book.”3 Each chapter features one of the cards from the magical 22 cards. Gordon-Bramer shares these stories in card order from The Fool to the World.

“My tarot cards became a life decoder and a compass to navigate  and reduce the chance of bad luck.”4

In the first chapter, Gordon-Bramer kicks off her story with the first card in the Major Arcana, the Fool. Here, she shares her own spiritual journey, including her fascination with the famous poet Sylvia Plath, who had her own tarot deck.  She conveys more about who she is, creating a bond with the readers, to set the stage for her trip through the rest of the cards.

My favorite card in the tarot deck is the Star card, so I was curious about Gordon-Bramer’s notes on this one. She shares a story about working at a renaissance festival with her son and the clients who came her way.  She worked with a young couple, a man who aspired to be a recording artist and another man who was a skeptic. To his comments, the author said:

“Tarot is about showing you where your energy is going. It gives you tools to understand yourself and guidance to make the changes you want.”5

Each chapter includes a highlighted section on a special TIP. For instance, in the chapter on the Fool, she provides suggestions for buying your first tarot deck. In the chapter on the Star, she addresses the question “Is Tarot Evil?”:

“Tarot does not call spirits, good or evil, into play. . . The idea behind the tarot is that we all have access to that knowledge and power because we are all one, of one spirit (which I call God). . . As a reminder, what the tarot shows us about the future is not fixed. We always have the power to change our path through the decisions that we make.”6

My favorite chapter in the book is the chapter on the Devil card. Gordon-Bramer weaves a story about two women who immigrated from Columbia to St. Louis and were seeking love and money.  When the Devil card popped into a reading for one of the ladies, the woman panicked.  Gordon-Bramer told her:

“Relax, this isn’t about being evil; It’s about being indulgent. The Devil is about  living large: good food, drink, pretty clothes, expensive cars, sex, vacations, sleeping late . . . you get the picture.”7

These ladies visited the author many times over the years and through her readings, Gordon-Bramer was able to support the women as they navigated their lives. 

The cover is beautiful, printed in a soft gray with pastel type and extra varnish on the three tarot cards featured on the front. On the back, the Gordon-Bramer’s photo is highlighted with varnish also! The book is a nice size, perfect for tucking into a handbag or backpack. In addition to a Table of Contents, Gordon-Bramer also puts the name of each chapter’s card at the top of each page.  This makes it very easy to navigate the book and find a chapter or passage. 

In the back of the book, she adds a list of resources, including her favorite tarot decks for client readings. She also features an extensive index for finding specific stories or tips within these pages. 

This book would be great for the experienced tarot reader, one who wants to add an additional layer to their readings. Gordon-Bramer combines client histories with her own tarot symbolism to add to your knowledge base. I can also see that this book will add to my own journey with the cards, as I refer to her stories when I pull a specific Major Arcana card for myself.

The last tip in Tarot Life Lessons was an important one. She shares how to use tarot cards for creativity:

“I know many creative people who pull a card for inspiration or to help them take a project in a new direction. We come to the tarot to find language for the impenetrable emotions and  things we don’t have language for. As they say: a picture says 1000 words. Let the tarot show you your next steps in life and how you might create it.8