3/5 – Meh.
Total review length: ~2500 words. See more about my review system here.
Warnings for casual religion and Christian bashing, Wiccan=Witch=Pagan, “we all revere nature/the God/Goddess/divine”, inconsistency, slight misunderstanding/shaming on lesser known subjects such as BDSM and satanism, generalization for all pagans/wiccans/witches, “the gods know what’s best for us” thinking, slight victim shaming, and in one stance flat-out false information with the word “cowan” (likely unintentional but still false)
The book has a lot of good ideas but nothing new is being shared here that hasn’t been said before. Blake isn’t quoting the Rede for you but is decidedly in the neo Wicca camp. Advanced practitioners may find the second half of the book an interesting read but many ideas could be fleshed out further. The book was a quick read for me (four hours give or take) and is 227 pages. My copy was from the library and is the 2011 printing. The book’s marketed for intermediate or advanced practitioners so I think much of the beginning information is kind of unnecessary but nice to know where Blake is coming from. The “something to try” at the end of each chapter is interesting but the real bonus is the sourced footnotes within the material, although it is somewhat inconsistent. (Not every idea is sourced but there’s a bibliography in the back).
The book starts off going over specific definitions of witchcraft… which are all really kind of exclusive. Actually, I’m going to be honest. They suck. All the definitions suck. But Blake tries with this by saying that you can substitute out “Witch” for anything you prefer. Despite this, she very specifically speaks about the God and Goddess with little regard that I could see to other deities or other paths. In fact, the words “Wiccan”, “Pagan”, and “Witch” are used fairly interchangeably and that just irks the linguist in me. She’s not consistent in word choice though, which is as annoying as capitalising the word “Witch” to me. I’m nit picking but at least I’m honest about it.
There’s some blurb about the Rede and how she doesn’t adhere to it strictly but “many of the Witches I know, while not considering themselves Wiccan by any means, have adopted the “harm none” rule of the Wiccan Rede and would be very hesitant to curse or hex (although admittedly these were and are tools of the traditional Witch.” (pg 5) This is covered a little bit more in chapter two. Overall, while I scorn the Rede for being largely nonsensical as most people use it, I find no specific fault in her Rede discussion.
Chapter two covers “The Seven Beliefs at the Heart of Being a Witch” and it’s at this point that I was going to do a review of the book rather than simply just read it and be done with it. The Rede is covered (see above) but it was the Law of Returns that made me point towards the door and think at the book “get out”. Blake clearly believes in the Law of Returns in some fashion (also the threefold law or whatever) and states that “this is an extremely important idea and the basis for much of the rest of our Pagan beliefs.” (pg 12). I don’t believe in the Law of Returns or at least not in any direct sense so the insistence that it’s vitally important to all pagans is just really exclusive and not true. I get that Blake’s paradigm (and many other peoples’) works like that but it leaves out a lot of people.
Casual religion bashing appears on page 13 with this lovely quote “Unlike many of the religions we may have grown up with, in which out lives are dictated by a stern and often angry god, Witchcraft is at heart a religion based on personal responsibility.” Uh, what? Let’s break this down. 1) Witchcraft CAN BE a religion but it is not ALWAYS a religion. 2) MOST religions don’t actually have “angry gods”. Even war gods aren’t always depicted as angry so this causal bigotry is just uncalled for. Sorry you’ve been trashed by (presumably) Christians in the past but don’t throw everyone but Witchcraft/Wiccan practitioners under the bus because of your experiences. 3) Uh, personal responsibility isn’t a religion it would be technically termed as a philosophy. Religion, generally speaking, requires religious elements to it. This is kind of one of those things where you’re like “ehhhhh, this is kind of wrong but I can kind of see what you’re saying”. Either way, it’s not universal at all.
She also gets into words having power. Now I’ll be clear. I have very specific beliefs about words, language, and magic. But I also understand that words having power isn’t inherent to everyone and I can distinctly agree – sometimes words are just words. There are some paradigms and practitioners who simply do not believe words have power so her whole page can ring really untrue. Again, it’s all about this universal belief bullshit.
Blake also talks about how “All Pagans, whether Witches or not, have at least one thing in common: We respect nature and believe that we are a part of it, rather than above it.” (pg 15) She follows this up by slamming Christianity specifically for being “superior to nature”. (pg 15) No, no, no, no, no. There are PLENTY of practitioners who don’t give a rat’s ass about nature. And this fucking unnecessary bashing of Christianity presents itself again. Her whole point could have easily been made without EVER bringing up another religion. But she goes out of her way to insult them instead. Disgraceful.
To continue on the “oh hey, everyone believes this” train, Blake then goes on to say that every single Witch or Pagan believes in a deity or divine. In fact we’re all “in truth, all Witches are priests and priestesses in their own right”. (pg 16) Well then, I guess we secularists and atheists don’t mean shit, do we? And no point in training at all because we’re ALL priests here. Religious practitioners such as Wiccan are clergy members, it’s true, but that doesn’t make them a priest. This is likely just poor wording choice. There’s specific meanings to words like “priest” or “clergy” that people like to ignore and I wish they’d stop it. We have all these words for a reason. Please use them instead of picking buzz words.
Chapter three was partially the reason I picked up this book. I’m currently writing up a course on words and magic (6/22/2015) so I was interested in what another author would say. Should have skipped it. Blake pushes the ideology that we should be working towards positive change which is sadly common. Her concept of magic within words is linked directly to the Law of Returns which isn’t surprising to read. She asserts that positive thinking and speaking (affirmations) can help bring about magic. She does go into a few different author’s opinions on the subject such as Ed Fitch and Marion Weinstein but they’re largely Wiccan based.
Chapter four jumps right into health and although there’s some “ehh” moments here those moments usually refer to things like “intent is crucial” and so on. The advice is pretty sound. There’s some prescription medication versus natural holistic approach. While she doesn’t abscond modern medicine, Blake clearly believes it’s by and large unnecessary when natural remedies may be available. This is kind of weird because Blake flat out states that she has fibromyalgia. I think she’s trying to say use everything in balance but it doesn’t come out that way. She pushes the alternative remedies as better than modern medicines in a passive-aggressive manner. I’m suspecting this is because she’s had a lot of trouble involving modern medicine but I just don’t know. I was OK with the chapter until page 46 and on page 52 I was just pissed.
There’s this underlying implication that is flat out said in the chapter exercise which is “if you’ are having problems with your health, consider what your illness might be trying to teach you.” (pg 52) In the chapter she better explained it along the lines that bad habits can inhibit health and so on like smoking or not exercising and I get that but there’s also this thread of thinking that’s there in the narrative between the lines that even the worse illness can have some deeper meaning to it and I’m not convinced that’s true at all. That line of thinking can quickly dissolve into “it’s your fault you’re sick” and victim blaming is just fucking gross.
Chapter five is about food and if you ignore the generalized statements and the “we are all nature” kind of statements, it’s a short but decent chapter. Same kind of thing in chapter six. Not all witches are religious so faith doesn’t always have a place in their craft. There is a continuing trend where Blake believes “that the gods never send us more than we can truly bear.” (pg 60). I fucking HATE the idea that some being that isn’t me should know what’s best for me. Be they human, animal, or god, no one gets to dictate what you do in your life. Ugh. That kind of thinking just removes your own agency. If that’s your thing, fine, but I hate that kind of rhetoric being spewed as an answer for all of someone’s troubles. This continues with the thinking that there’s always something to learn from an experience. Even if that’s true, it STILL borders on victim blaming. Chapter six is more about support and dealing with crisis and you might get some usage out of it.
Chapter seven opens up with more assumption that witches are all religious and so on. Outside of those assumption, chapter seven and eight are actually fairly good. Altars and circles are discussed, as is sharing space with non-practitioners.
Note, Blake uses the word muggle or mundanes for non practitioners but on page 77 she states “The term for a non-pagan practitioner is actually “cowen”.” (pg 77). I reeled back and verbally said “wait, what?” I’ve been a witch for 20 years and I’ve never heard that term before so I googled it. Turns out “cowan” refers specifically and exclusively to Freemasons. Actually, cowan means “one who is not a Freemason; especially : one who would pretend to Freemasonry or intrude upon its secrets”. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cowan) So don’t use that word to mean non-practitioners. It’s specific to Freemasons. Don’t be a dick. More information on the Freemason usage of the word cowan here: http://www.masonicdictionary.com/cowan.html
Chapter nine rolls into cleaning and it’s by far my favorite chapter as it’s pretty much exactly what I tell people to do about cleansing and cleaning.(I sighed at the sage smudging because there’s SO MANY different ways to smoke cleanse than using white sage or a traditional stolen from native peoples)
Chapter ten is short but covers practitioners who aren’t open about their practice. What she doesn’t say, and what annoys me the most, is that you do not have to tell anyone about your practice ever. The same way you don’t have to share your personal life, sexual orientation, or religion, you don’t have to share your practice if you don’t want to.
Chapter eleven circles back around to the Christian bashing again. This chapter involves sex and the first page is just unnecessary bullshit. There’s a slight but subtle BDSM shaming, the prevalent “we’re all part of nature” and “the gods will do X” kind of thinking that’s been throughout the book. Outside of that, it’s pretty sound advice from what I could see.
Chapter twelve covers marriage and chapter thirteen is about raising children. There’s a lot of “we witches all do X” in chapter twelve. Blake goes over what’s good in a relationship by using the elements, which is cute but actually good. Watch out in this chapter because there casual Christian bashing is there lurking in the shadows. In both chapters the “we are nature” and “god/goddess/deities” talk comes back. Thirteen doesn’t religion bash which surprised me since snide remarks had happened for the last hundred pages or so.
Chapter fourteen has some of the typical misunderstandings about Satanists and Satanic witches. Blake even gets into the whole generalizing all Christians (well, in her example Catholics) and not throwing them under the bus but then again, what’s with all the snide comments in the previous pages? What was even the point of those words previously then if you acknowledge that you shouldn’t be shitty to them? Is it bad editing? A joke I missed? What is this?
Chapters fifteen and sixteen had nothing that made me want to throw the book and both were reasonably sound in advice. Part five has more of the “we’re all part of the god/goddess” that’s so common in new age books. Chapters seventeen and eighteen go into solitary and group practices which again is nothing groundbreaking. Since Blake runs her own circle, it’s actually a good read through to see how another circle does their thing if you’re into group practice.
Chapter nineteen covers daily, monthly, and yearly rituals. There’s some factually incorrect information here about the various holidays (surprise, surprise, right?). It’s a decent chapter to get some ideas if you want to do more witchy stuff during some holidays. Blake even goes over national holidays like US Memorial Day and offers witchy suggestions for those days. Chapter twenty is much of the same as it goes into rites of passage. I cringed when Blake says that “as Pagans, we don’t differentiate between a legal ritual and a spiritual one” (pg 200) in reference to marriage because that’s patently untrue and I hissed at the jumping over the broom as it’s straight up stolen from African cultures. There’a also a lot of “we all believe this” kind of nonsense.
Chapter twenty-one covers familiars. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about familiars and I wish the community as a whole would simply address the various terms and figure out which one we’re all talking about (and yet the linguist in me laughs hysterically and mourns the loss of regional dialect). Slight “we witches don’t believe in the devil obviously” mentioned in passing. Blake specifies a familiar is a sensitive animal that helps in magic work. I personally like the term “witch pet” (example “witch cat”) for this sort of pet or animal who chooses to be involved in this sort of thing. I also specifically cite Breelandwalker as the source of the term “witch cat”.
Part six starts with the whole “we are nature” thing again which by this point is getting old. Chapter twenty-two covers the garden and here Blake makes a case for a witch to have their own garden. She really believes this to be the best way for people and although she acknowledges that some folks don’t give a fig (haha, see what I did there?) she pushes her agenda. Chapter twenty three and twenty four are very small and finish the book out quietly.
Overall, the book’s all right. It’s not awful but it’s not groundbreaking either. It has some good ideas, especially for more advance topics. I wish the book covered things like what to do when you run into perverts, racists, homophobic, and other assholes in the community because those topics are NEVER covered and it’s a fucking shameful that they aren’t. There’s a lot of common sense in the book but some shit that just makes me think “what the hell?” It’s a solid three out of five for me.