Book Review: The Teen Witch Spell Book by Jamie Wood 2/5

2/5 – It’s OK. You can read more about my rating system here.

Things to watch for: Bad or vague history, binary thinking, sexism, Wicca = witchcraft, grab and go gods and goddesses, cultural appropriation, Harm None Rede and Threefold Law every three pages, “ancient (matriarchal) religions”, generalization and weird witchy folklore, and not really a good beginner book.

I picked up The Teen Witch Spell Book – Magick for Young Witches by Jaime Wood from the library. It was one of a dozen books I grabbed and one of two magic related books. I knew before even opening the book that I probably wasn’t going to like it. I was unpleasantly correct.

As said, this isn’t what I’d call a beginner’s book and the spells are pretty much the only thing worth reading in it. Still, the spells are certainly good for inspiration for people of all ages and that’s largely the redeeming quality of the book.

Let me clear the air here. I am not Wicca. Except for a few months where I attempted to be a new age Wiccan when I was around nine or ten, I have never been Wiccan. Wicca, as a religion and magical practice, does not interest me. I don’t care much for set paths of magical study – I’d much rather make up my own and follow what feels right for me. That being said, I’m aware that many don’t feel this way.

The book claims to be a spell book for witches but it is really a spell book for Wiccan witches. Make no mistake. There isn’t even a hint of acknowledgement for non-Wiccan witches. So, while that counts against the book as a whole, I put it aside and focused on what this book attempts to do: be a spell book for teenage Wiccans circa 2001.

The first thing that irked me was on page three. It says this: “As a girl, you represent  the maiden or princess. When you reach puberty or age fifteen, as a young woman you become the enchantress. You are captivating, charming, delightful: full of light and magick.”

Uh, what? Where the hell in Wicca does it say that? What’s with the randomly selected age? Because in my state, you aren’t considered an adult until 18. In fact, you can’t agree to be in a relationship with someone over the age of 18 until you’re 16 in my state (it’s considered statutory rape otherwise) and you have to have parental permission. So what the hell is this? Worse – it’s terrifying to say “when you reach puberty” because menstruation can start at age nine. Are these children suppose to give up their childhood simply because their body is maturing? Fuck that. Wicca is, first and foremost, a fertility religion and that is glaringly obvious in this and the following quoted paragraph.

Not just the above but also compare what’s said about women to what’s said about men. “As a boy, you are the lad and embody a curious nature. When you reach puberty or age fifteen, as a young man you become the adventurer or warrior. You are a symbol of daring, courage, protection, and the provider.” So, men are never more than “lads” and apparently the only ones able to provide. Women are to be charming, delightful, light, and magic. they are to be put on pedestals to enthrall. Enthrall who is a good question and one I fear the author would answer ‘men’.  Men are to be warriors not nurturers and have to be brave and protect. No fear allowed here.

This is extremely toxic and Victorian thinking. Never mind that people don’t fit neatly in these categories. Never mind the warrior queens that existed or the cowardly soldiers who hid. You don’t get a place here. You’re not allowed. I get that this paragraph is written to encourage teenagers but as a teen, this would have angered me. What place did my non-binary friend fit into? The friend who’s hand I held when they wore girl’s jeans to school one day and was terrified that they were going to be noticed and bullied for it. What place did my non-heterosexual friends have in this passage? What place did I have? I wasn’t a princess or a maiden. I’m not captivating, charming, or delightful. As a teen, I wasn’t light and magick. I was rage and pain, terror and fear coating the inside combined with the arrogance and bravery of youth. This entire passage would have excluded me entirely. It would have made me doubt and wonder if I had a place at all even when a paragraph above, the author said that they’re here to help, to help find the path right for me.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it but it’s little passages like this that aren’t fact checked and can linger in the back of someone’s mind, acting like poison.

Page five and on covers the history of Wicca and it’s just flat-out horrifically WRONG. Just skip it. It covers the bingo card of wrongness- the redes of harm none and threefold law written as law not suggestion, Wiccan is a gentle earth-based religion, can be tailored to your needs (never mind the origin of Wicca or the traditional initiation version), “ancient matriarchal societies”, ancient nature worshipers following the God and Goddess who are apparently exactly as we interpret them now and their union is the Spirit, and the “the devil doesn’t belong in witchcraft” (ignoring texts from the witch trials and beyond that claim otherwise),  I’m not going to counter-correct this much wrongness so google if you’re confused but essentially, it’s a lot of tripe bullshit. The author does quote on the low-side of the witch trial burning numbers and doesn’t inherently say that everyone burned was a witch. Bonus points there. Usually, that’s the first thing to be claimed.

The author finished the section and continues on in the next section listing some big names and leaders of the Wicca movement and most of them are problematic in some way so heads up if you’re looking for suggested or recommended reading.

The section covering “Wiccan traditions” made me throw the book. Apparently all of the following religions follow the threefold law and the harm none rede: Faerie, Gardnerian, Dianic, Alexandrian, Italian, Norse, Celtic, and Egyptian. Apparently all of these are not just witchcraft but actually Wiccan. I shit you not. Don’t get me wrong, there are Wiccans who do work within these groups (Norse, Celtic, Egyptian, Streghe) but those groups exist outside of Wicca and that’s not actually mentioned. Oddly, notice the Greek and Roman pantheons, one of the most easily recognized, isn’t mentioned at all here.

To be fair, the author does seriously advocate research and finding “your own style of what Wicca means to you.” (page 16). They follows this with “There is no mediator between you and Spirit. You are the Goddess. You are the God.” And that’s just not true in many paths. For some, that would be hubris. For others, that’s literally the role of clergy. So, you know, it’s not universal.

The next section covers what modern Wiccans do and relates that “modern experience witches are nonjudgmental, supportive, and accepting of all life paths.” (Page 17) And anyone who has seen our internet communities will know that’s nothing but filthy lies. “Witches do not fly around on brooms, hex people, practice infanticide, or consort with the devil (according to the Wiccan religion, there is no devil.)” Leaving aside that witchcraft texts do mention the devil and demons so that’s really more of a Wiccan thing than a witchcraft thing, witches of all kinds, even Wiccans, can and do hex people. In fact, that’s what the harm none rede tells you it’s OK to do, if you look at the original version of the rede.

Then there’s this: “The Wiccan religion is a way of life and an approach to living. You can be a Catholic witch, a Jewish witch, Baptist, Hindu, and so on.” (Page 17) Props for saying you can be of these religions and a witch because that’s rare. Uh, but didn’t you just say in the page above that all Wiccans follow the rede which these religions don’t do? And that the devil doesn’t exist? It’s a little contrary and I’m sure the author didn’t mean it in such a way.

On page 19, that very strange folklore of sharing practices came up. “Although sharing your practice with others can be exciting and fulfilling, it can also be devastating and result in a deterioration of your power.” I have some issue with this folklore. First off, many witches work in groups so you are, by the very nature of your practice, sharing your practice. Secondly, the author’s sharing their practice by writing this book and all magic-related authors are doing the same. If they were so sure of this, they wouldn’t say a word. Third, it actually has merit and some truth. Oh-ho, weren’t expecting that were you? For some people, sharing that you’re a witch is actually dangerous to their personal safety. Not just that, but the more you share of your practice, the easier it will be to counter your protections and have someone curse you. I’m not saying that you’re suddenly not going to be able to use spells but rather that there are considerations against being open and vocal. There are reasons people don’t share everything about their practice or put in false information. The author does a pretty fair job of explaining this.

Page 23 starts the next section on Wiccan holidays and there’s SO MUCH information written about this subject elsewhere on the internet, I won’t get into it. Honestly, I’m not fond of the Wheel of the Year because it grabs from various European practices for the holidays. It also doesn’t work universally across the world with content or by seasons. The Rede and Threefold law is harped as well throughout the chapter. Interestingly, there’s a list of deities sorted by the sabbats and what they’re good for. That wording probably irked you and it should. Since I’m a hard polythesist, the idea that you can just “select” a deity for your purposes without building a relationship sits wrong with me. To each their own in this case but it’s my review so I’m pointing it out.

The deities are grabbed from everywhere, including Native American spiritualities without specifying tribes or religious significance. Jesus (Christian – sun, rebirth) is under Janus (Roman – doorways, possibilities, January, new endeavors, turn of the year, overcoming of obstacles, opportunity). That’s literally how they’re written on page 33. I have… well, I have personal concerns about this, as mentioned above. So tread very, very carefully here if using this list because cultural appropriation is SO EASY.

The next chapter covers tools and I breathed a sigh of relief because that means we’re leaving the questionable thinking and moving onto more basic stuff. I thought.

The list of tools isn’t extensive but the author doesn’t explain what they’re used for. Why do you need an athame? What purpose dose the buin serve? Why a besom if witches don’t fly using brooms? These aren’t answered at all. In fact, tools of witchcraft are only mentioned on page 47 before going into the materials they should be made of on 48 and how to cleanse and bless said tools. You know nothing of why these tools are important or if you need them. What is mentioned at the bottom of page 47 is this “When you buy your tools, never haggle or attempt to bargain over the price, as it is considered bad form and will diminish the tool’s power.” While I get the reasoning behind this (ie more money you pay = more power the tool has because you’re sacrificing more) it leaves me to wonder. In some places, haggling is expected and the price set is a suggestion. You can pay sometimes hundreds of dollars less for an object simply by haggling. I don’t know about you lot but I know I remember when I get a good deal on something. It makes me really happy and if I don’t use the object a lot, then it’s not a great loss. If I spend a ton of money and don’t use the object often, I regret the decision. Regretting a tool is a whole lot worse in my book. So keep that in mind when considering this folklore. Not haggling only works in some areas and situations – and if you can afford it, of course.

The rest of the chapter is full of cultural appropriation. Chakras are covered after that and I have serious issues with chakras being appropriated outside of the Hindu origins and practices. “Animal totems” follow that which, as one might assume, I also have serious issues with. Runes are also there with little historical context included.

Blissfully, we moved onto spell casting on page 61. Even here, I find fault. The author puts forward that “spells are primarily used to discipline the mind to create the fulfillment of our wishes.” (page 61). While this is certainly a paradigm that exists and works, it’s not the only one out there and it means that everything in the previous chapter is completely useless. If all you need is willpower, then you you don’t need spells or tools. You need your brain. So while this method of wish fulfillment does work and is a valid form of magic, is isn’t the only one out there and isn’t the one of the main ones promoted. Pages 62-63 covers a small list of what to consider before doing a spell. I’m kind of ambivalent towards it because adding clauses to spells is something more people should experiment with but I’m not of the school of thought that you have to “need” something to do a spell.

The next few pages covers casting a circle, and the steps of casting this version of the circle is described in those pages. Smoking cleansing is mention, straight up stolen and appropriated as smudging via Native American traditions. the offering section has questionable wording and poor suggestions for offerings, leave out any individuality for the specific deities in question. The four directions, the moon, astrological signs, color chart, days of the week, are also gone over in this chapter. I’m a believer in casual association. I don’t think casting a money spell on a Saturday is going to make or break a spell rather than waiting until the suggested Thursday but if you happen to be able to wait or manage to do it on a Thursday (while keeping the reason WHY that day is important in mind) then it’ll help. But that’s me.

Now we actually move onto the spells on 81. There’s a little intro on why items might be useful in spells as props and mnemonic deices then the recommendation of using divination to determine if you should even do the spell. Finally, we move onto the spells themselves and the whole reason I picked up the book.

Each spell starts off with a little description or a way to relate to the spell. Sometimes that’s kind of questionable thinking or minor cultural appropriation (example: karma). There is, as one might expect from the content of the rest of the book, grab and go style deity appropriation.

This is a personal preference but the spells are written in paragraph format which isn’t as pretty or easy to read as the step-by-step recipe format. The spells are also split up into different sections to make them easier to find. I would have preferred an index at the beginning of this section for quick searching in addition to splitting up the spells in this manner.

Overall, the spells aren’t bad. Certainly worth reading through at the library or using as a reference book. Many of the spells I would consider adapting to my usage. They are kind of “basic” spells though. There isn’t much to them and they all have the same kind of format of intent-and-verbalization rather than something herbal or more complex. There’s also copious amounts of “praise the goddess” sort of stuff with a smattering of “eh, this is kind of meh” with the introductions.

I think what needs to be asked from this book, however, is what makes a spell a “teen” spell versus an adult spell. From what I’ve seen and remembered, teens use the same kind of spells that everyone else uses except they tend to need the spells to be far more low-key, simpler, and require less stuff. I just don’t think being preoccupied with staying friends with someone as a teen spell. Those kind of issues persist into adulthood too but we’re told to just get over it instead. Which is just plain shitty in my opinion.

Since the ease and simplicity of the spell is what I look for when terming something a “teen spell”, that’s what I looked for in the book. How easy are the ingredients in the spell to procure? What kind of set up is needed? Can it be done stealthily? Are the ingredients in the spell explained so the practitioner can learn?

If that’s how you judge a teen spell then these are kind of a miss. They aren’t super fun spells and some of them require ingredients that most practitioners don’t keep around. How many of you have sheets of beeswax hanging around? Or can source an abalone shell that doesn’t cost a fortune? How many of you, as a teen, would have been able to have an elaborate spell set up for several days? How many of you even had the space or time to devote to such spells? (How many of us even have that now?)

I find the spells in the book are actually pretty decent outside of the mentioned flaws. There’s even a few for banishing negativity and helping with depression or darker thoughts. Stuff for students and keeping friends, getting on the team, and lessening homework. By and large though, the spells (which should have made up the meat of this book) were more useful for practicing witches of all ages. I say practicing because, as mentioned, some of these instructions required ingredients even I don’t keep around or are super expensive to procure.

For the spells alone, I’ll be looking to pick up the book used somewhere, just as a jumping point and inspiration. (Plus, I like spell books) but I wouldn’t buy it new and I wouldn’t recommend it to a beginner.