Basic Witches by Jaya Saxena & Jess Zimmerman – 4.5/5 – You should be reading this.
Heads up: One section covers black/white magic, somewhat out of nowhere. Another talks about familiars but it’s uncertain what is meant by familiars, and could possible refer to spirit animals? It’s unclear. Lots of talk about sex and adult themes so it might not be a wise choice for younger readers.
It’s not quite a witchcraft 101 book, it’s not quite not a witchcraft 101 book. It’s somewhere firmly in the realm of “witchlings will enjoy this but most any magical practitioner that this looks interesting to will probably enjoy it.” It’s centered in modern witchcraft, to be sure, so close to non-witchcraft that the lines merge. I’m OK with that. Bring on the ordinary magic. It’s good fun.
I’ll be honest, I would have given it a solid 5/5 if not for the strange introduction of black/white magic suddenly within the text. More on that below, but it’s a great book outside of that bit of oddness.
I love this book. I want to gift it to newbie witches and people interested in witchcraft. It’s not actually for experienced witches, which makes sense, considering the title. It’s also not for those who are following a more traditional, less modern approach to magic. It has it’s historical merit (it has little blurbs about history of witchcraft, for example) but it’s definitely more of a “this is a ritual for self-care, to enchant your clothes, etc” It’s not high ritual stuff.
It’s also secular. Flat-out. It’s secular. You’ve been asking for secular witchcraft books for years and a few have come out now. This is one of them. It’s not going to tell you to go worship nature. It’s going to tell you to focus on you.
I read this book in two sittings. I probably would have read it in one but I was summoned for pie. Pie kinda wins, sorry. But I found this a quick read. It’s one of those books that could be a very fast read or a very slow one, depending on if you’re trying to take notes or attempt spells. It would actually be a good reference book or idea book for spells, because of that. It’s very casually written and that’s a good thing. It’s written by magazine and website writers so they know how to create a voice and how to write concisely. That’s a good thing. It makes it an engaging read. It’s concise but solid. It’s not the kind of book I can read while watching TV, for example.
It’s not for experienced witches. It’s just not. I’m not even sure it’s for witches who are serious about starting their path. Instead, it’s more for people who aren’t sure about this whole witchcraft thing but they want to pursue it anyway. It’s for people who aren’t even sure magic is real but want to give it a go anyway. It’s for people who want to use magic both in the woo sense and psychological sense – using the brain to improve your mood. I’m a big fan of this kind of thinking myself usually. I find that it’s a very fine line between psychological tricks and magic – not because of the results but rather that they both are very similar to me.
Naturally, this doesn’t mean that experienced witches can’t get something out of the book. You can usually get something out of a book, if you’re willing to read it. Even if all you get out of it is something new to complain about, it’s still something. So don’t give this a miss if you’re an old hat at the witchcraft thing. Flip through it at the library, bookstore, or before you gift it to a witchling. You may be inspired by the spells or find out some new historical tidbit to squirrel away.
It’s not a book that will teach you how to cast a spell. There are spells in there, but they’re spells for everyday life. This is a very modern witch book, for women who want to reclaim power for themselves. It’s about witches as being othered people, being weird, being the others. So it’s more for women who happen to be witches or interested in witchcraft than it is a book for witches who happen to be women. Non-women could also easily find merit in the book, but it’s firmly entrenched in the realm of feminism. That’s a good thing.
For example, it talks about make-up being a source of power. It creates illusion and discusses how ridiculous it is that men hate women who wear make up (but don’t like women without make up, you get me?) It talks about glamour and gives ideas on how to capitalize on that. It gives a spell or two on the subject, like finding your colors or gaining confidence to wear bright lipstick. It even gives a few DIY suggestions.
I think this book is really great as an idea book. For example, the DIYs often have just ingredient lists but not instructions. Great if you’re use to DIY stuff but if you’re not, you’ll need to Google. The spells are solid for what they are. But it’s not going to be full on instructions. You’re going to have to use your brain a bit or google. I’m OK with that. It’s not claiming to be a spell book, where I’d expect explicit instructions.
Overall, I really liked it.It’s a different take on a beginner’s book and I think it could be really good for people who aren’t sure what they want to do or if witchcraft with all the pseudo new age thinking or religious ties are for them. It’s a really great book for athiest and secular witches because there aren’t any ties to any of that stuff – this is one of the first books I’ve read that is really like that. A trend I’d love to see more of.
So this book isn’t going to tell you how to astral travel or meditation or even cast a magic circle – but it’s honest about that. It says it won’t in the opening pages. But it’s a good book for folks who want to get into the witchy part of witchcraft without dealing with all of the religious hoops or technical tomes. If you want to try your hand at spells to improve your everyday life and see if witcchraft is for you, then this is a great book to start with.
I have a few weird issues. For example, there’s two pages on which pet should be your familiar. Pets are not your familiars. You can have a familiar that is also your pet but your pets are not your familiars. What even is a familiar? That word has several meanings depending on the tradition. It could be a faerie lover, a gift from the Devil, or it could be an animal who is helpful. There’s a lot that the word familiar could mean. So not even explaining that isn’t helpful. The animals were a cat, dog, guinea pig, cockatiel, snake, and manatee. Yeah, you read that right. So are these suppose to be animals that we are to embody then? Animals to use as a guide? I just don’t understand.
In another set of pages, there’s a discussion of sex and what to do if you don’t really want it. A good conversation to have but I don’t like how it was separated into black magic and white magic. The black magic was the more negative side of things like dating someone you don’t like fo cuddles or sex whereras white magic was seeking friends for little physical affection, massages, or buying sex toys. Both referred to when you crave physicality but don’t want a partner. I’m not a fan of the dicotmy of “black magic” and “white magic”, especially when black magic refers to negative magic. There’s so many different ways to say negative without referring to black magic. Black magic is often viceral. It is curses, bindings, and true raw emotion-based magic. Why are we making that negative? Why are we calling that damaging? Honestly, this book isn’t terrible in this regard at all but I feel like this kind of thinking comes out of no where. I just don’t like it. There’s other ways of handling this topic without going back to this kind of old thinking.
This book has a ton of spells for the modern late teen or young adult. The spells cover friends, love, money, and so on. I would lean towards adults with this book as once you get into the romance and sex section of this book, things get racy fast. There’s even a little section on the kind sex toys that may be good for you. Make no mistake, I highly support education and sharing sex information with people. Sex’s pretty important to a lot of people so why don’t we have positive or uplifting conversations with it? Conversations usually are degrading or are the equivalent of cat calls – annoying and unwanted. It doesn’t make you feel good. Conversations about sex, at least for me, shouldn’t be embarrassing. I want to encourage conversations where we positively encourage each other, we congratulate each other on a great night, or suggesting something we’ve tried to someone who is looking for something new. This book gives you that kind of wonderful conversation.
Overall, I really liked this book and I would be happy to gift it to my sister or a young adult looking into witchcraft or getting into witchcraft but unsure of exactly where they want to go with it all. If you’re looking just to try a few spells or spice up the DIY you’re already doing, it’s a good choice. It’s also good for feminists who are looking for a woman-centric book that isn’t problematic in some manner. It’s secular and basic enough to be a good beginner’s guide for anyone starting any path without being useless. There’s a lot of spells and everyday information that young adults and teens would find useful and exciting without beating them over the head with a lot of dogma or rules.
It’s definitely on my to buy list and I can’t wait to ad it to my collection. As said above, the only reason this book isn’t a 5/5 is because of that weirdness with the black/white magic. I get exactly where it was going, trying to say “this behavior is a good alternative to that not-so-great behavior” but it really threw me out of the book’s narrative, so to speak. Outside of that, it’s an excellent book for the modern up-and-coming witchling.