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Secrets of Santa Muerte, by Cressida Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wyrd Sisters, by Casey Zabala

Wyrd Sisters: A Deck of Spells and Rituals, by Casey Zabala
Weiser Books, 1578638291, 60 cards, 80 pages, April 2024

Ah, destiny! For those who enjoy contemplating fate, or the inevitable outcome of events, perhaps even tempting it here and there, Wyrd Sisters: A Deck of Spells and Rituals by Casey Zabala is a true delight. The concept of “wyrd”, originating from Old English and Norse mythology related to the predetermined outcome of events, has been explored as a way to understand the interconnectedness of all things and the idea that individuals are part of a larger cosmic pattern. While wyrd implies a sense of inevitability, it also carries the idea that individuals have some agency in shaping their own destinies through their choices and actions. Calling upon the duality of fate and free will, this deck helps readers to explore the mysteries of existence and the human experience.

Zabala is a devotee of the Wyrd Sisters, describing how they “are the ancient Deities who dwelt at the roots of the world tree and set the order of the cosmos through their spinning, weaving, and cutting the cords of fate. Their threefold process affirms the cyclical nature of our being.”1 Just as they weave fate, we too are weaving our own lives:

“We weave specific patterns and shapes for protection and success, with the awareness that our spells and wishes are delivered through the web of wyrd.”2

Believing that spellwork is deeply personal, Zabala has created a very creative and open-ended deck for readers to ascribe their own meanings to the imagery and messages and then use their own magical repertoire to integrate the energy. While there is some guidance provided through the guidebook, this deck really shines as a work of art that assists readers with strengthening their own intuition, crafting their own rituals, and creating magic that feel uniquely meaningful and relevant to them.

“Magic is the fifth element–also known as spirit, ether, or quintessence. It is the ethereal nature that keeps all beings connected and psychically tethered to each other.”3

There are five types of cards in this deck: spell cards, candle magic cards, sigil cards, magical tool cards, and Wyrd Sister cards. The guidebook entry differs depending on the type of card, as the type of magic coming through is aligned to the energy of your draw.

For the spell cards, there is an intuitive message along with a list of spell ingredients that one can use for inspiration. There’s something about being given three to five things and then being told, “Now go figure out what you can do with this” that makes my creativity soar. For instance, the spell ingredients for the card Spell for Surrender are “physical inversions, amethyst, strong winds, sharing secrets with strangers, salt”6. You can absolutely use none, one, some, or all of the spell ingredients, and I feel like the process of coming up with one that feels do-able and relevant for you is magic in itself.

For the candle magic cards, Zabala offers suggestions for the color candle and what to do during your candle magic ceremony. The Candle for Vitality card reads “Call all of your energy back to yourself.. Light a yellow candle and imagine a sunlight shield protecting your auric field from outside disturbance.”7

The guidance for the sigil card includes what to use the sigil, where to place it, and the ruling planet. As an example, the Sigil for Unbinding can be used to “untangle webs of entrapment or psychic manipulation”[/efn_note]page 55[/efn_note]. Zabala notes it should be placed in a ring of salt and the ruling planet is Pluto.

With the magical tool cards, Zabala reminds us, “Each tool represents the essence of our intentions, our spiritual connections, and the art of our will.”8 The guidebook describes the tool and then offers a suggestion of how one can best use their magical energy at this time. There is suggested magic for each one, ranging from speaking one’s truth to establish a boundary (athame) to gathering with friends to celebrate transformation through “ritual, feasting, and revelry”9 (bonfire).

Last but most important are the Wyrd Sister cards. I have yet to pull one myself! I honestly didn’t even want to read the guidebook description because I feel like it’s an initiation to pull one. However, from a quick glance at Zabala’s introduction, I can see they’re related to past, present, and future.

While you can pull a card for quick insight from this deck, as you can tell from reading the various descriptions, some of the cards require some more magical effort. Whether it’s planning out your spellwork, gathering the right color candle, or making preparations to perform the suggested magic related to a tool, it can take days, perhaps even weeks, to put the energy out into the world. It seems as though only the sigil cards can be used for immediate action. But I personally enjoy how the deck calls for you to savor its message and take the time to align with one’s intention and then put forth their magical working. You can always simply see what card comes through and then reflect on it before making any energetic investments.

As for the artwork, this deck is bright, abstract, and filled with symbolism. It definitely speaks to the non-verbal part of the psyche, activating inner knowledge through images, colors, and dimension. One thing I have been doing with this deck is noticing where my eyes go first, as there’s often many places to look, for insight into what is most relevant for me. For those who enjoy divination through creative decks, you could absolutely toss the guidebook aside and find plenty of messages and meaning within the cards themselves.

My favorite card that I’ve pulled so far is Spell for Grounding. Suitably, I pulled this on a night when my lower back was completely out of whack, indicating to me that I was ungrounded and needed to focus on my root chakra, as I rested with a heating pad. The image on the card was so fascinating to look at, and I spent a good five minutes letting my eyes explore. It shows a person with their arms in the air and an infinity symbol witch hat on their head, but the torso of their body is a tree trunk. It is growing from a patch of grass, and one can see the roots below the ground, pushing downward into spirals of energy below.

The guidebook calls for connecting with the earth, listening to plants, being barefoot, and speaking the name of the native land I live on, giving thanks. All of which my body and soul gave a resounding “yes, yes, yes, yes” as I read the entry and continued to meditate on the card. In this case, I didn’t feel a whole spell was needed; simply going outside and laying on the ground seemed to be enough, which I guess could be considered a simple spell in itself, but as Zabala intended, to each their own with this deck!

All in all, Zabala has created a really cool deck for those who love to explore their own magic and discover new possibilities. Wyrd Sisters is the perfect blend of intuitive guidance and freedom to roam with one’s own interpretation. Within the liminal magical space, we have the opportunity to discover our destiny, while also actively changing our fate. It all comes down to the willingness to ride the waves of mystery and magic, learning when to surrender and when to pursue. The Wyrd Sisters may be the universal weavers, but we are the active co-creators shaping the web too. As Zabala encourages:

“May your connection with the Wyrd ones inspire you to embrace the mystery and weave your own magical webs of belonging.”10

The Shining Tribe Tarot, by Rachel Pollack

The Shining Tribe Tarot, by Rachel Pollack
Weiser Books, 9781578638178, 83 cards, 247 pages, April 2024

As a tarot enthusiast and reader for twenty years, I was excited to learn about the publication of Rachel Pollack’s revised deck The Shining Tribe Tarot. Initially published in 1992 by Aquarian Press, the deck was called The Shining Woman Tarot. In 2001 she changed some of the art on some of the cards and the deck was published by Llewellyn. The title was also changed to The Shining Tribe, which she felt better reflected the community of people drawn to tarot for divination and personal growth:

“The name was a kind of invocation, a hope that the deck would shine for others, especially in reading, and light the way for travelers on their own sacred journeys.”1

For this 2024 edition, Pollack created five new cards: one for each of the minor arcana suits and one to represent the major arcana. Although the deck was published after Pollack’s death in 2023, she was able to complete the revisions and supervise the creation of the deck before her death. It is also important to point out that Pollack created the artwork herself for all of the cards.

Rachel Pollack (1945-2023) was a giant mentor in the field of tarot. In addition to writing the bestselling book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, she wrote the guidebooks for several tarot decks, as well as many fiction and nonfiction books. She taught at The Omega Institute for over thirty years and was a frequent panelist at tarot workshops around the world. I was blessed to meet her at a tarot workshop in Los Angeles in 2007.  She was brilliant, generous, and very friendly. A group of us went to lunch during the workshop where I visited with her and Mary K. Greer! 

In addition to her interest in tarot, Pollack also created the first transgender superhero in several issues of the comic book Doom Patrol. She was also known as a trailblazer within the transgender community. 

“Welcome to the definitive edition of the Shining Tribe Tarot. It’s the equivalent of a director’s cut of a film. It’s the creator’s cut, Rachel Pollock’s cut. Published for the first time with all 83 color corrected cards, it also includes a full colored guidebook in which Rachel discusses the evolution of the deck, offering insights into each card and how to read them. More than merely an accompanying book, this guidebook stands as another of Rachel’s landmark Tarot guides.”2 – Judika Illes, Editor

With this Introduction, the editor opens a door into the special world of Pollack. In the next few pages, Pollack gives us a history of this deck, including the inspiration for the tribal images and artwork that she created. She talks a great deal about symbols and colors and the different cultures on which her images are based. She makes it a point to say that she wants to honor and respect the “history and living power”3 of the symbols.

The structure for this set of cards is fairly traditional, although she has adopted her own names for the suits of the minor arcana: Trees (Fire/Wands), Rivers (Water/Cups), Birds (Air/Swords), and Stones (Earth/Pentacles). She has also renamed the court cards as “Vision” cards: Place (Page), Knowers (Knight), Gifts (Queen), Speakers (King).

Pollack also shares this:

“One difference is that the Vision cards in general do not signify actual people the way the Court cards sometimes do in traditional tarot. Nor do they represent character types in quite the same way. Instead, they take us into an experience of ourselves. They give us a chance to discover and use the power of the elements.”4

The cards are a nice size, a little larger than playing cards. The card stock is a nice weight, and the matte finish is great for the ancient symbols and bright colors of the deck. Each card has a white border, and the name of the card is shown at the bottom in black type. The set comes in a beautiful box with a cut-out portion and ribbon for the cards, as well as ample room for the hefty guidebook.

These cards are easy to shuffle, and I enjoyed using them for my week of daily readings.  For the first day, I drew one card: Three of Trees, which is the Three of Wands in a traditional deck. This card is always a celebration for me and I was interested to see what Pollack shares:

“This card is a celebration, filled with the laughter of the Grandfather. He welcomes and protects us with his open arms.”5

She also includes the story of the artwork, which features “a spirit image formed from a tree by the Ojibwe people of Canada.”6 The image is based on a photograph of this type of tree, which has been carved to represent a person. 

The next day, I did a three-card spread and drew these cards: Knower of Birds, Six of Trees, and The Sun. With Pollack’s guidebook and my own intuition, I created this affirmation, based on the three cards:

“I collect signs and symbols and share my knowledge with confidence and wisdom, as I emerge into the light of divine consciousness.”

Her imagery is so beautiful, and the artwork invites deep contemplation and a connection to the heart. My favorite card in the deck is one of the five “extra” cards:  Portrait of Albert-Bright Through Nobility, which relates to the major arcana and Spirit. Pollack explains that this card is based on the name of her animal guardian, a red fox. “The name Albert means ‘bright through nobility.’ Getting this card means a sense of protection and the ability to ask for and receive help.”7

The guidebook is very easy to navigate, from the Table of Contents to the Glossary.  She includes a large section on Readings and includes lots of ideas for spreads for various situations.  She also includes an Appendix which explains the name changes for all cards, how to work with reversals and how to start your own Shining Tribe. She even has notes for groups, including ways to start conversations and create activities for developing your tarot skills. The last section is a Glossary that includes references to some of the cultures, religions, and symbology used in the deck. 

I really enjoy working with The Shining Tribe Tarot. I can feel the decades of tarot history, as well as the flavors of the various indigenous cultures in the cards. I can’t wait to introduce it at my next Coffee & Cards Zoom with my friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Marie Laveau Voodoo Grimoire, by Denise Alvarado

The Marie Laveau Voodoo Grimoire: Rituals, Recipes, and Spells for Healing, Protection, Beauty, Love, and More, Denise Alvarado
Weiser Books, 1578638135, 240 Pages, February 2024

When I went on a witchy pilgrimage to New Orleans in September 2019, the highlight of my trip was a guided tour through Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 to visit the legendary tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. A heat wave was blazing through the South, and it was in the upper nineties that day. The long walk through the sweltering maze of mausoleums felt like a fever dream, and the marble tombs were blinding white in the blistering sun.

Some of the tombs cast merciful shade, and I was relieved to finally arrive at Laveau’s mausoleum towards the end of the tour without having a heat stroke. Rose quartz crystals, pennies, bobby pins, and hair ties were strewn at the base of the tomb as offerings to her spirit. The hair accessories may seem like strange offerings, but they pay homage to her occupation as a hairdresser. The tour guide said that even though this practice is prohibited, and the offerings are swept away daily, people continue to leave them anyway.1

Having had this memorable glimpse into the cult of the Voodoo Queen, I was excited to read The Marie Laveau Voodoo Grimoire by New Orleans native and rootworker Denise Alvarado. She has written over twenty books on Southern folk magic traditions, including The Magic of Marie Laveau (2020), Witch Queens, Voodoo Spirits, and Hoodoo Saints (2022), Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook (2011), and The Voodoo Doll Spellbook (2014). She offers courses on Marie Laveau and New Orleans Voudou at Crossroads University.

In the introduction to The Marie Laveau Voodoo Grimoire, Alvarado gives a brief summary of the origins and permutations of Voodoo, from its roots in West African Vodun to the tourist voodoo of modern day Louisiana, and an intriguing biographical sketch of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Marie Catherine Laveau (1801-1881) was born a free Creole woman of color in New Orleans on September 10, 1801.2 She is well known for commercializing Voudou and Hoodoo, making these illegal magical folk practices profitable and more palatable for public consumption.

“New Orleans Voudou and Hoodoo are closely related,” Alvarado says. “In Marie Laveau’s day, the two traditions were essentially one and the same…Each tradition is a resistance response to the harsh realities of slavery and the oppression experienced following emancipation.”3 

I first became interested in Hoodoo during a time in my life when I felt forced to conceal my identity as a witch, so I was researching magical practices that could be performed under the guise of Christianity. Even now I still feel a need to be discreet and keep my practices indoors so I don’t attract negative attention from nosy neighbors. I think a lot of people today take for granted religious freedom, but there is still a lot of stigma around practicing any form of magic.

Even though Voudou is deeply woven into the fabric of New Orleans culture, Alvarado points out that it was illegal during Marie Laveau’s time and is still illegal today, even though the law against it is rarely enforced.4 She suspects that many practitioners “prefer to stay out of the public eye due to the stigma attached to Voudou and the safety issues that can arise when a person is known to be a Voudouist.”5 Alvarado’s historical reflections deepened my admiration for the resilience and adaptability of the Voudou faith, and Marie Laveau’s courage and audacity in openly practicing and commercializing Voudou.

Her rowdy rituals drew a lot of attention, but Laveau wasn’t just a mysterious Voodoo priestess. Alvarado paints an intriguing and complex portrait of her as a multifaceted human being with snippets of biographical information dispersed throughout the text “She is most loved and remembered by New Orleanians for her charity work, prison ministry, and services to the community,” Alvarado says. “Nonetheless, she was often targeted and harassed by the police,” but she had enough power and influence to avoid incarceration.6

She was a complicated character, who was both a philanthropist and a blackmailer, who collected gossip about wealthy patrons she overheard in her beauty parlor. Along with biographical notes from the author, each chapter is headed with quotes extracted from witness interviews compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project between 1936 and 1941, in which people who knew her as children shared their fond memories of her.7

Madame Laveau was allegedly illiterate, so this grimoire is Alvarado’s imagining of what the Voodoo Queen’s grimoire may have looked like had she been able to write one. She draws inspiration from authentic recipes and formulas commonly used during Laveau’s lifetime, as well as information passed down through the oral tradition, historical documents, and recipes from her own personal grimoires. “In addition to a strong background in New Orleans Voudou, Hoodoo, and Spiritualism, my Catholic Creole culture of origin helped immensely when writing this book,” Alvarado says. “Marie Laveau was a Louisiana Creole and Catholic also, and her spiritual practices reflect that.”8

Alvarado calls this blending of Catholicism with service to Marie Laveau the “Laveau Voudou tradition,”9 and she uses the spelling “Voudou” in accordance with the nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources that informed her research. “Marie Laveau’s Voudou is a folk religion resulting from her intentional blending of Catholicism and Voudou,” Alvarado says. “She openly practiced both religions without conflict and confusion.”10 It is not necessary to be initiated into this tradition in order to perform the workings presented in this grimoire. They are accessible to anyone and this book also contains “tips and advice for living a magickal, spiritual lifestyle.”11

For readers who may be wary of Voodoo practices due to the negative connotations associated with them, Alvarado provides reassurance:

“This grimoire is designed to only unleash blessings and magickal mysteries, to provide instructions for protection and defense, and to unlock joy and abundance for anyone reading it,” Alvarado says. “There is no danger here.”12

In Chapter 1, titled “Materia Magica,” she shares “the essential tools of the trade to be an effective conjure worker in the Laveau Voudou tradition.”13 “If you are working within a strict budget, the only tools you really need are yourself, a white candle, a glass of water, and the ability to focus your intention and utter words of power,”14 she says. I found the table of “Kitchen witch essentials,”15 which lists the magical properties of herbs and common household supplies, and the table of “Perfumes and colognes and their magical uses”16 to be helpful resources. I was acquainted with popular formulas like Florida Water, Peace Water, Rose Water, and Hoyt’s Cologne, but many of the magical perfumes and scented waters on this list were unfamiliar to me and I’m eager to try them out.

In honor of Marie Laveau’s work as a hairdresser and beautician, Chapter 2 covers “Beauty Formulas,” such as vintage perfumed dusting powders, hair treatments, and skincare. The hair treatments are simple, involving common kitchen ingredients like bananas, eggs, and olive oil. The powders appealed to me the most, and I’m thinking about trying the “Lavender Dust” scented body powder recipe.

“Even today, people who serve Marie Laveau offer her beauty-related items such as combs, mirrors, makeup, brushes, and perfumes in hopes that she will grant them favors,” Alvarado says.17 This reminds me of the coins, crystals, and bobby pins littering her tomb, and reveals the magical intention behind leaving them. 

I love to cook, and I was delighted to discover that this book includes Creole recipes! In Chapter 5, titled “Conjure in the Kitchen,” Creole dishes are listed that can be prepared as offerings for Marie Laveau and other Voudou spirits, ancestral spirits, or just enjoyed as delicious and authentic New Orleans meals. I learned that the Holy Trinity of Creole cuisine is onion, bell pepper, and celery, and onions have a variety of magical uses, depending on their color. “Onions are associated with good luck—particularly red onions—while green onions bring good luck in finances, and white onions are a curative,” Alvarado says.18

I’m really into resin incenses lately, so the chapter on crafting incense blends was one of my favorites. It has recipes for several popular formulas, such as “Cleo May”,  “Crown of Success”,  “Fiery Wall of Protection”, and “Louisiana Van Van.”  The recipes only have three or four ingredients, and measurements are not given, so the reader is instructed to use their intuition when creating the incense blends. “Altar Incense,” for example, only requires frankincense, myrrh, and cinnamon, all of which I already had on hand.19

In a section titled “Hoodoo’s Shells and Stones,” Alvarado discusses the magic of natural objects, such as cowry shells, coral, and lodestones. I already work with a pet lodestone that I gave a secret name and regularly feed magnetic sand and whiskey. She currently resides on my bookshelf, attracting more books than I have time to read! I was most interested in brain coral, which I had never heard of before. “Place a piece of brain coral on your altar for Crown of Success and King Solomon Wisdom works,”20 Alvarado says. Being a Mercury-ruled Gemini, this really appealed to me, and I plan on adding a brain coral to my Hermes altar in the future.

Alvarado’s passion for her craft and devotion to Marie Laveau shines through in her writing. This spellbinding grimoire captivated me from cover to cover and has been a real blessing to my personal practice, revitalizing my love of whipping up magical recipes and inspiring me to experiment with new blends and craft my own unique formulas. With lucid prose and simple, yet potent recipes, Alvarado makes Laveau Voudou accessible to anyone, regardless of their level of experience.

Celtic Goddess Grimoire, by Annwyn Avalon

Celtic Goddess Grimoire: Invoke the Enduring Power of the Celtic Feminine Divine, by Annwyn Avalon
Weiser Books, 157863802X, 224 pages, March 2024

At the end of 2023, I signed up for a thirteen-moon prophecy reading with Danielle Dulsky. The intention I set for the reading was furthering my understanding of the “flavor” of my magic. I was curious about what spiritual pursuits were most aligned for me right now. A very significant piece of my prophecy was the Awen symbol, so important that Dulsky explained it was the mythic image for me to draw upon this year. In a pursuit to learn more about this symbol, I’ve been doing increasing research on Celtic traditions, particularly Druidism. I felt an instant pull towards Celtic Goddess Grimoire: Invoke the Enduring Power of the Celtic Feminine Divine by Annwyn Avalon, as though connecting with the Goddesses of the Celtic tradition is the next step in my journey.

Avalon is the perfect person to write this book. She is a Celtic witch and water priestess, who has years of study in water mysteries, witchcraft, and magic. Her previously published titles include Water Witchcraft and The Way of the Water Priestess. Currently, she serves as the keeper of the White Spring, a sacred spring in Glastonbury where she lives. As if all isn’t cool enough, she is also the sacred steward of Chalice Orchard, the former home of Dion Fortune.

Avalon begins by sharing with readers a journey of her life, from growing up in a conservative Christian home to becoming a devoted priestess of the Divine Feminine. Her story felt very relatable, as I’m sure it will be for many others who feel called towards Goddess worship. She explains how while initially she wanted to write a scholarly book about the goddesses, she realized in the process that the dynamic Celtic goddesses could not be confined to specific categories. The book took its own form, which she describes as:

“I wanted to build a bridge between the vastness of each goddess and those who seek her. In the end, I embarked on a goddess-guided journey, allowing them each to show me the highlights of their magic, and teach me what they wanted emphasized in the pages of this book–the best pathways for others to find them and experience their energy.”1

This connection to the energy of the many Celtic goddesses is exactly what I felt while reading this book! Since I am still in the beginning phases of learning Celtic spirituality, I decided to see which goddesses I was naturally drawn to while also keeping an open heart and mind in case any of the goddesses came to me. Avalon does offer some insight into the process of  connecting with a goddess, noting relationships will be different for each person, the goddess you call upon might not answer, while another goddess might abruptly come into your life. Above all, Avalon encourages listening to your own “unverified personal gnosis”2, or UPS for short, even if the information you’re receiving isn’t verifiable by outside sources.

For those new to the Celtic belief system, Avalon covers a bit of history (Roman conquest strongly impacted the Celtic cultures), the role of women in the Celtic world, the Celtic otherworld, and Celtic rituals and practices. Some exercises she shares are how to build an altar, create your own sacred image or blessed candle, and make a goddess simmer pot, incense, and bath soak. These exercises don’t require too many materials, and most could probably do them with the items they have on hand, which is something I always appreciate as a devotee on a budget.

The Part II – Part VII of the book focus on different types of goddesses: Goddesses of the Sacred Waters and Landscape; Goddesses of Abundance, Fertility, and Healing; Goddesses of Battle and Justice; Faery Women; Goddesses of Magic; and Horse Goddesses. Within every part there ranges from two to seven chapters which each cover an individual goddess. At the start of the goddess chapters, Avalon shares name variations, regions, sacred associations, offerings, and body of water. While not every goddess has each one, this plethora of information is fascinating and useful for building a connection with the goddess. It really made me want to go visit these locations and sites on a goddess pilgrimage!

Avalon delves into the history and folklore of each goddess. She covers things such as what the goddess is most well-known for, what artifacts reveal about them, the cultures that revered them, and how goddesses evolved through time, many having their names changed or Christianized by Romans. At the end of each chapter, Avalon provides customized exercises for the goddess. For example, for the Andraste, Invincible Goddess of War, one of the exercises is a prayer for justice, while the exercise for Melusine, Mermaid Goddess of the Fount, is a ritual bath to ask her blessing.

While every goddess was fascinating to learn about, the one that was most awe-inspiring for me to learn about was Rosmerta, The Great Provider. She was an abundance goddess associated with “springs, healing, prosperity, abundance, protection, and fruitfulness.”3 I was intrigued to learn in continental Europe, she was considered the consort to Mercury. Mercury is one of the primary deities that I work with, and never before had I come across any material about him having a consort. I am absolutely going to be weaving in working with Rosmerta as well, hoping the couple will enjoy sharing in ritual together! Exercises that Avalon shares for Rosmerta are an invocation to her and an abundance ritual where fruits, vegetables, and spring or blessed water are given as offerings. I am looking forward to building an altar to Rosmerta and performing the invocation and ritual!

Another goddess that I felt drawn to is The Giantess Cailleach. Avalon writes how she “is often depicted as the personification of winter” and is “variously known as a creator goddess, a storm goddess, a destroyer, and as a giantess who can move large boulders, make mountains, raise seas, and create windstorms.”4 Now, this is one incredible goddess! Exercises Avalon includes for The Cailleach are using storm water for protection and creating a harvest spirit doll, both of which I plan on doing when the timing is right.

Oh! And guess what? In the midst of being immersed in reading about Cerridwen, I flipped the page to see the Awen symbol right there! I did not realize Cerridwen’s mythology was related to this story, and it gave more insight into the meaning of Awen for me. I knew I was meant to read this book!!

At the end there are two appendices for added convenience. Appendix A is titled “Glossary of Celtic Goddesses and Faery Women ” and Appendix B is titled “Index of Exercises and Rituals”. Both make quick-references extremely easy. And one more really neat feature of the book is the maps on the front and back cover. The front cover is a colored map of modern Celtic lands, while the back cover is a map of the historical dispersing of Celtic tribes. For someone not as familiar with the Celtic landscapes, these maps are very helpful when reading about the goddess’s associated locations.

All in all, Celtic Goddess Grimoire is an awesome resource for learning more about the Celtic divine feminine. As a beginner, Avalon made the material very easy to navigate, focusing on providing ample information to provide a full perspective.Those already working with the Celtic pantheon would surely benefit from reading this book too, as Avalon’s insight add new perspectives and the exercises and rituals are good to have available. This is a book that I’ll surely be referring to time and time again, as well as sharing with others I know are feeling called to explore the roots of their Celtic ancestry.

Tarot for the Hard Work, by Maria Minnis

Tarot for the Hard Work: An Archetypal Journey to Confront Racism and Inspire Collective Healing, by Maria Minnis
Weiser Books, 1578638070, 280 pages, January 2024

Everyday we are confronted with choices about who we are as a collective as outdated systems are questioned and dismantled, especially those that have oppressed and disempowered Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) individuals and groups. I believe change starts within, but it’s not always easy to do the inner work, nor is there a step-by-step map about how inner work translates to external activism. Many of us turn to tarot for answers; we trust the wisdom of archetypes for our own guidance and personal growth. Can this wisdom system we know and love be used for more? Absolutely, and that’s what Maria Minnis has revealed in Tarot for the Hard Work: An Archetypal Journey to Confront Racism and Inspire Collective Healing.

In this book, Minnis teaches how the tarot can be used as a tool for inner work, activism, and community transformation through the archetypes. Using the symbolic language of the tarot, Minnis leads readers through major arcana, providing perspectives of how their attributes can be utilized to foster change, prompt self-reflection, lead to more self-awareness, and consciously begin to dismantle racism.

Tarot for the Hard Work is a tool for passionately demolishing structural oppression. It’s a tool for white people who want to use their privilege for more liberation. It is a tool for Black and Brown people living in a structurally racist society intent on selling self-hatred and shame to marginalized people and capitalizing on their pain. It is a tool for both tarot newbies and tarot experts. It is a tool for action. It is a tool for going beyond baby steps. It is a tool that can offer great satisfaction as well as great difficulty. It is a tool to expand your comfort zone. This is a tool that requires your presence for it to work.”1

Each chapter follows the same structured pattern, which provides a nice container for the content. The chapter begins with an inspirational quote at the top and then a description of the card. The description highlights the point in the journey (ex. How the Empress relates to the prior cards–Fool, Magician, High Priestess) and also bullet-pointing the services the card contributes to the cause. Next, for every card, Minnis guides readers to form “embodied keywords” from gazing at the card, becoming the archetype, studying the imagery from a liberation perspective.

The succeeding section of the chapter focuses on the card in liberation work followed by a section correspondences associated with the card. Minnis provides lists of how the card can show up both in a balanced and imbalanced way, leaving room for readers to fill in a space about ways their relationship with the card feels when balanced and imbalanced.

The section that differs the most chapter to chapter is the next as it is information personalized to the card related to a method of dismantling racism. For instance, the Wheel of Fortune chapter section is titled “Intersecting Race and Disability Justice”, while the Lovers chapter is “Choosing to Redistribute Wealth”. These sections are followed by exercises that range from downloading a related book or podcast to doing a social media audit to thinking about these issues when creating a budget. I think these sections are my favorite part of the chapter because I’m a do-er. I thoroughly enjoy all of Minnis’s tarot information, but these sections feel like the nitty-gritty I’ve been wanting to delve into, so I really appreciate her ample suggestions of how to take direct action. Her recommendations of books, movies, meditations, songs, etc. are impressive – and I’ve already gained a lot from taking the time to do the exercises.

Moving onward, the following section focuses on identifying as the card. Minnis includes about twenty qualities and suggests readers circle ones they already embody, draw hearts around ones they want to embody more deeply/frequently, and squares around qualities they want to transmute or avoid. Once again, readers get the chance to be hands-on in their reading; there’s something about putting pen to paper in the book that feels like I’m acknowledging my qualities and calling in the ones I want more than just thinking about them. The following section is affirmations, which further heighten my connection to the card, particularly in regard to a liberation work aspect.

My second favorite section is next: magical practices to conjure the card. Minnis doesn’t give specifics, but the list of ideas is once again enough to get the creative ball rolling on how you can make a difference in your personal practice. Some suggestions are specifically related to a magical practice, such as “Perform a protection spell.”2 or “Embody benevolent ancestors.”3, while others are more focused on direct actions that can be magically inspired, such as “Review and diversify your news sources.”4 or “Offer community to isolated people.”5

The final sections are focused on becoming the archetype. Minnis offers readers the opportunity to set their own objective (personal, relational, or collective) related to the energy of the card’s archetypal energy. There is space to write down the specific intention, as well as the time one plans to embody that tarot card in their liberation work, why this work is important, and an affirmation they will repeat to support their intention. After this, there’s one last section for readers to reflect and write about their experience, noting their successes, setbacks, and other reflections that came up during their experience working with the archetypal energy.

But wait! That’s not all. Minnis is guiding readers to be fully equipped for doing the hard work of dismantling racism, and so, at the end of every chapter is a page on “Building a Toolkit” that has a specific action readers can take and questions that make them identify the situation and how they can remedy it. For instance, the toolkit suggestion for the Empress is “Defend Public Spaces” with questions such as “How can you help preserve public spaces, particularly for BIPOC?”6. This toolkit prepares to have conversations about these important topics, giving them the food for thought needed to arrive at their own opinions that can be shared with a wider community to make a change.

Even though it’s only January, I feel confident in saying Tarot for the Hard Work will be one of the best tarot reads this year and the one I will be consistently recommending to other tarot enthusiasts. Not only does Minnis unlock new insights about the archetypes of each major arcana card, she has beautifully crafted a whole hero/heroine journey for readers to undertake themselves with her activities, prompts, and space for reflection. Tarot newbies and experts alike have so much to gain from reading this book, and it cannot be overstated how relevant and necessary inner work is to acknowledge racism, privilege, and barriers to change within ourselves in order to shift the detrimental structures of our society.

For those interested in Minnis’s work you can learn more about her here on her website.

The Sorcery of Solomon, by Sara L. Mastros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing Pluto Problems, by Donna Cunningham

Healing Pluto Problems: An Astrological Guide (Weiser Classics Series), by Donna Cunningham
Weiser Books, 1578638151, 256 pages, December 2023

Ever since Pluto was first discovered in 1930, our perception of this celestial body has been growing and evolving. While Pluto was initially recognized as the ninth planet in our solar system, it was demoted to dwarf planet in 2006, and a lot of people who grew up knowing Pluto as a planet are still bitter about this demotion (myself included!). Despite astronomers minimizing its significance, modern astrologers acknowledge the Underworld power of Pluto by assigning it as the modern ruler of Scorpio and the Eighth House.

Native Scorpio Suns pride themselves on being Plutonians, and they can be quite possessive of that identity (all Scorpios believe they were born under the best sign in the zodiac!), but they don’t own Pluto. Everyone has Pluto somewhere in their natal chart, and significant Pluto transits can have profound and lasting effects on our lives.

In Healing Pluto Problems: An Astrological Guide, astrologer Donna Cunningham (1942-2017) explores the immense impact Pluto has on the soul’s evolution. Originally published in 1986, this Weiser Classics edition includes a foreword written by astrologer Lisa Stardust. This book has been on my wish list for a while now, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review it.

Cunningham defines a Pluto person as anyone who has Scorpio placements in their natal chart or a prominent Pluto connected to their Sun, Moon, Ascendant, or Midheaven.1 According to her definition, I’m a Plutonian, despite my Gemini Rising and Gemini stellium (Sun, Moon, and Venus in Gemini), because my natal Mars and Saturn are cozied up together in my Scorpio Sixth House. I was very close to having Pluto in Scorpio as well, but right before I was born, Pluto backpedaled into Libra due to retrograde motion, so I’m a member of the Pluto in Libra generation.

In Healing Pluto Problems, Cunningham addresses a wide range of taboo emotions and traumatic experiences Plutonians may experience with compassion and sensitivity, such as grief, resentment, alcoholism, domestic violence, incest, abuse, and suicidal thoughts. She gives guidance on how Plutonians can process the intense and complex emotions that arise from their life challenges, and she also coaches professional astrologers on how to counsel the Plutonian people who confide in them.

“One reason Plutonians keep their secrets is that so often the people they go to for help wind up making them feel worse—more ashamed, more angry, and more betrayed,”2 Cunningham says.

Being forced to keep their taboo emotions secret in order to avoid negative reactions from others often makes Plutonians feel isolated and alone, as if they are “from another planet.”3 I’ve observed this as spiritual bypassing in religious and New Age communities, in which people are often shamed for feeling angry or resentful about past victimization, and chastised for not being more forgiving of their abusers. Talking about Plutonian emotions can be a healthy way to release the pressure of them, but it can be difficult to find safe spaces with trustworthy people to confide in. For example, Plutonians who have suicidal thoughts must keep quiet about them when talking to a therapist, even if they have no intention of acting upon them, because that therapist may perceive the Plutonian as a danger to themselves and feel legally obligated to have them committed, which would be a traumatizing experience that would compound those negative feelings with more layers of shame and betrayal. 

However, Cunningham points out that there are potential benefits to Plutonian solitude. “Isolation may be a condition which some require in order to develop their abilities to the fullest or to achieve an agreed-upon life purpose,” Cunningham says. “It may be necessary to focus on some singular activity, rather than being immersed in the daily needs of family or other relationships.”4 Isolation can also be therapeutic, especially when one is processing grief or trauma.

“When we do not give ourselves time to regenerate and to process new stages of life,” Cunningham says, “resentment and grief can build up to toxic levels.”5 

Plutonian transits can generate healing crises, during which the Pluto problems seem to intensify, as if resisting one’s efforts to heal them. Repressed emotions are at the core of all Pluto issues, and they will flare up, demanding recognition. “The feelings don’t get worse,” Cunningham says, “you are just more aware of them and of the thought patterns behind them. Heightened awareness is part of the process.”6 The cathartic release of repressed emotions is like an acne breakout after a skin treatment. It seems like things are getting worse because all the dirt and grime that was clogging the pores is coming to the surface, but it’s all a necessary part of the purging and cleansing process. 

Cunningham offers healing methods to assist the process, such as affirmations, chants, flower essences, chakra cleansing visualizations, and color therapy. In the section on healing with color, I was fascinated to learn that purple, my favorite color, assists in “releasing and processing old resentments,”7 and that purple’s popularity increased when Pluto entered Scorpio. For almost a decade, I have preferred purple sheets on my bed, so perhaps my gravitation towards this color has been an unconscious impulse to help myself heal with the higher vibrational energies of purple while I sleep.

Cunningham supplies sample charts of a few famous Plutonians, including Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, and Sigmund Freud. Building upon her examples, I thought I would explore the chart of a prominent celebrity whose Plutonian struggles have attracted a lot of media attention. I read pop star Britney Spears’s memoir The Woman in Me (2023) alongside Healing Pluto Problems, which is quite fitting because Britney has Pluto Rising in Libra [natal chart], and her life struggles illustrate the unfair power dynamics that tend to manifest in the relationships of the Pluto in Libra generation.

Many of Cunningham’s insights about Plutonians apply to Britney. According to Cunningham, Plutonians tend to be the children of alcoholics, and, as a child, Britney was afraid of her alcoholic father, who would go on benders and disappear for days, which she said “was a kindness” because she “preferred it when he wasn’t there.”8 She also reveals in her memoir that her mother started giving her alcohol when she was in eighth grade. “By thirteen,” she says, “I was drinking with my mom and smoking with my friends.”9

As Britney rose to stardom, her Pluto Rising gave her a sexual magnetism that was perceived as threatening by the media, and she was criticized for being a corrupting influence on youth because of the way she dressed. During interviews, she was subjected to a lot of uncomfortable and inappropriate questions about her body and sex life, and she was shamed for her sexuality throughout her career. “I was a teenage girl from the South,” Britney writes in her memoir. “I signed my name with a heart. I liked looking cute. Why did everyone treat me, even when I was a teenager, like I was dangerous?”10

In her memoir, Britney describes herself as empathic and felt that she was absorbing all the negativity that was being projected onto her. She even believed her misfortune was due to bad karma catching up with her. It’s heartbreaking to read, in her own words, how this vivacious, free-spirited, and talented young woman was eviscerated by the media and financially exploited by her own family. After reading Britney’s memoir, I suspect it was ancestral trauma seeking expression and healing through her, not “bad karma” she had personally accrued (this is exactly why I have taken the word karma out of my spiritual vocabulary; it can guilt trip people into taking blame for things beyond their control!) 

“Tragedy runs in my family,” Britney says. “My middle name comes from my father’s mother, Emma Jean Spears, who went by Jean.”11 Britney was the spitting image of her paternal grandmother Jean, who took her own life in 1966, at the age of 31. Jean had lost a baby eight years prior, and shot herself over her infant son’s grave. Jean had also been abused by her husband June, Britney’s grandfather, and he had kept her institutionalized in an asylum where she was given lithium.

The parallels between Britney’s life and Jean’s are chilling. During Britney’s divorce from Keven Federline, the father of her children, she had a very public mental breakdown because she was grieving the loss of her two little boys since Kevin had full custody and would not allow her to see them. The breakdown landed her in a conservatorship, in which all her assets and every aspect of her life was placed under the control of the alcoholic father she had feared so much as a child. During Britney’s abusive conservatorship, her father, who apparently had learned from his own father to send defiant women to asylums, also had Britney institutionalized and put on lithium like her grandmother, in a disturbing reenactment of the Spears family’s intergenerational trauma. 

Pluto is a generational planet, and, after reading these two books together, I believe that the placement of Pluto reveals the intergenerational trauma that one is destined to transform into personal power. In other words, Pluto is your inheritance of unprocessed ancestral trauma. I feel like the Pluto in Libra generation in particular has quite a burden to bear because they are the intergenerational mediators, and the Libran desire to restore harmony may cause them to take on more than their fair share.

As a member of the Pluto in Libra generation, I sympathized with Britney’s relationship struggles and court battles because I also went through a nasty divorce around the same time she did. I’ve noticed that my own relationship issues are also rooted in ancestral trauma. I can only imagine how traumatic it was for her to go through all of that publically, especially compounded with the endless harassment by paparazzi. 

As a Libra Rising, Britney’s chart ruler is Venus, and her natal Venus at 25° Capricorn forms an exact square with her natal Pluto at 25° Libra. This emphasizes that her way of relating to people (Venus) needs to be transformed (Pluto) in this lifetime. Britney Jean’s Pluto is in the first house, and, by bearing her ancestor’s name, the trauma associated with her grandmother Jean’s memory expressed itself through Britney’s public persona. It’s also noteworthy that Britney’s Pluto is conjunct Saturn, the planet of incarceration, and she was locked under the conservatorship for almost the entire duration of Pluto’s transit of Capricorn (ruled by Saturn). Pluto entered Capricorn in 2008, the same year Britney’s conservatorship began. The conservatorship was terminated on November 12th, 2021, when Pluto was at 24° Capricorn, forming an almost exact square to her natal Pluto at 25° Libra.

In Healing Pluto Problems, Cunningham says that the square between Pluto and natal Pluto “is a major chance to heal your Pluto problems” and presents opportunities for “confronting and breaking down barriers.”12 Transiting Pluto squaring Britney’s natal Pluto liberated her from a thirteen year abusive conservatorship, so if anyone who is reading this is afraid of their own Pluto square Pluto transit (which is one of the so-called midlife crisis transits), this is proof positive that it can emancipate you from long-standing Plutonian difficulties. I’m experiencing mine right now and I find this to be quite comforting.

Healing Pluto Problems is an excellent resource that has given me a lot of insight into understanding Pluto’s power in a natal chart, and any student or practitioner of astrology should have it in their library. The therapeutic advice Cunningham provides also helps Plutonians work on reclaiming their personal power through self-healing. This work is indeed a classic, and as Pluto transitions into the sign of Aquarius, the guidance Cunningham gives is just as relevant now as it was when it was first published in 1986.