Zen

Alan Watts was a philosopher and an author who popularized Zen Buddhism in America. “Zen: A Short Introduction with Illustrations by the Author” is a wonderful addition to his published work. It’s minimalist in word and design (clocking in at 70 pages), and features illustrations by Watts. A perfect introduction to Zen and Watts, in a format perfect for collecting or gift giving.

You can learn more here.

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Wicca: A Modern Practitioner’s Guide

Arin Murphy-Hiscock’s latest book, “Wicca: A Modern Practitioner’s Guide”, is impressive in many ways. For starters, Adams Media did a wonderful job formatting the book. A beautiful hardcover book perfectly sized to carry around in a handbag or backpack. Once inside you realize Murphy-Hiscock has taken on a daunting task of defining Wicca. She starts out explaining that Wicca is not an ancient religion, despite what some people may tell you. Murphy-Hiscock painstakingly details the origins of a Wicca and the many ways it differs from witchcraft or other pagan traditions.

The author explains that “Wicca” was intended as a much-needed book to deal with the next level of Wicca practice. However, she discusses spells, sacred space, grounding, and more, which all provide nice information for beginners. Honestly, I have never seen such a thorough, well thought out, explanation of the beliefs and practices of Wicca. Arin Murphy-Hiscock has written a beautiful classic for anyone interested in Wicca.

You can learn more here.

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Sacred Herbs of Samhain

Let’s face it, there are loads of books on using herbs for health and magic. I enjoy reading them all, because I love food and there are lots of tasty things that show up in books on herbalism. In reading books from different authors I’ve learned that there is more to herbs than taste or potential health benefits. Herbs, and plants in general, have a rich history you might never have suspected. Each plant, with its unique appearance, scent, physical make up, and taste has created its own mythology and place within cultures, religions, and spiritual practices. And no one tells a plant’s story better than Ellen Evert Hopman.

Hopman’s latest book, “The Sacred Herbs of Samhain: Plants to Contact the Spirits of the Dead” is a wonderful addition to her previous works. Like the herbs she talks about, this book has a wonderful back story that she shares in the acknowledgements:

I wish to thank Kevin Sartoris of Muse Gifts & Books in Marlborough, New Hampshire, who invited me to speak at the annual “Celebrate Samhain” event and suggested that I talk about herbs to contact the dead. I said, “Sure,” and promptly put together a talk. The Kevin asked, “Why not make the talk into a book?” and I said, “Why not?” and this volume was born.

Long time readers know how much I love Kevin, Muse Gifts & Books, and the Celebrate Samhain event, so, I was stoked to learn of the book’s origin. But enough back story, what is in “The Sacred Herbs of Samhain”?

The book is broken up into two parts. Part One is “Herbs of the Spirits and the Dead and How to Use Them at Samhain”, and Part Two is “Herbs, Foods, and Traditions of Samhain”. At the start, Hopman discusses how to use herbs in purification and protection, divination, and in relationships with spirits, fairies, and the dead. She then covers Dumb Suppers (a traditional feast honoring the dead), including their history, recipes for food, and rituals associated with them. Of course, Hopman also discusses Samhain itself, providing an example ritual and foods to be used as offerings.

She gives you some basic information for each plant or herb, including their more common usages. Then at the end of each entry, Hopman explains how they can be specifically used for the Samhain season. This takes what could have been a once a year book and turns it into a book that can carry you through the whole year.

“The Sacred Herbs of Samhain” is a good pick for those interested in plants and herbs, but it is an absolute must for those interested in integrating those plants and herbs into their Samhain observances.

You can learn more here.

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The Hearth Witch’s Kitchen Herbal

If you know me, you know I love food. Thusly, when I’m given the chance to review any book with the potential to end with food, I’m there! That brings us to today’s review of “The Hearth Witch’s Kitchen Herbal: Culinary Herbs, for Magic, Beauty, and Health” by Anna Franklin.

“The Hearth Witch’s Kitchen Herbal” is nice because it focuses on ingredients that most people already have in their kitchen. Franklin gives a nice overview of each herb including its planetary associations, elemental correspondences, magical virtues, and associated deities. She goes on to talk about how to use the herb for cooking, cosmetics, and healing. The best part is at the end of each entry is recipes! And why yes, I did try one.

The internet is all about turmeric these days, so I decided to try making “Golden Milk”. It didn’t require too many ingredients. (Sadly, the recipe called for cinnamon, which I didn’t have at the time.)


Warm coconut milk with spices. Steep. Strain. Stir in honey. Enjoy! It tasted pretty good. I bet it would have been better with the cinnamon…


You can learn more here.

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Banned Books Week 2019

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

For those of you who are curious, this short video shows the 11 most challenged books of the past year.




You can learn more about Banned Books Week at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks

Want to support independent bookstores and shop the top 10 most challenged books of the past decade? Then shop the links below! (These are affiliate links to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use these links to purchase books, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.)

NUMBER ONE
NUMBER ONE

NUMBER TWO
NUMBER TWO

NUMBER THREE
NUMBER THREE

NUMBER FOUR
NUMBER FOUR

NUMBER FIVE
NUMBER FIVE

NUMBER SIX
NUMBER SIX

NUMBER 7
NUMBER 7

NUMBER EIGHT
NUMBER EIGHT

NUMBER NINE
NUMBER NINE

NUMBER TEN
NUMBER TEN

Backwoods Witchcraft

“Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia” by Jake Richards paints a vivid picture of life in Appalachia. He pulls you into a land of rough living, enchanted untouched places, folklore, and magical practices. A place where the Bible is equal parts magical text and religious philosophy.

“Backwoods Witchcraft” is written in a conversational tone. Although Richards divided the book into sections, you’ll find quite a bit of overlap in subject matter. This can be forgiven because as you read you’ll find that Appalachian folk magic infuses everything in the practitioner’s life; from the foods you choose to eat to the clothes you opt to wear.

Personally, I loved reading about how the Bible is used for magical incantation. It made me look at the Bible with fresh eyes. “Backwoods Witchcraft” is also loaded with tons of little things you could incorporate into your everyday life. However, Richards wrote the book in the hopes that others would pick up the torch of Appalachian folk magic, a magic that is apparently dying out in practice in its traditional homeland.

“Backwoods Witchcraft” is a well-written, entertaining, and informative read.

You can learn more here.

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Familiars in Witchcraft

When I saw “Familiars in Witchcraft: Supernatural Guardians in the Magical Traditions of the World” by Maja D’Aoust I knew I wanted to read it. Who doesn’t love learning about those adorable animal familiars? In retrospect, it was a pretty myopic view. Fortunately, D’Aoust opened my eyes into what makes a familiar.

There’s so much more in the world to be considered a “familiar” than your typical black cat. D’Aoust takes a truly global approach to the conversation. Her discussion of Greek belly-talkers and sibyls and the source of their powers was eye-opening. The examination of the role of angels in Judeo-Christianity was something I never considered before as a “familiar” relationship. D’Aoust also looks at fairies, familiars in Chinese legend, and even their appearance in India. I also want to mention that the author’s own artwork is used throughout the book. It’s unusual that the author provides their own art, and in this case helps bring extra vitality to her words.

“Familiars in Witchcraft” is wonderful, global look at what defines a familiar and how that title is mutable depending on culture. A worthwhile read for all those interested in spirit.

You can learn more here.

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Memory Palace and Masonic Lodges

Okay folks, this might be a pretty specific niche that I’m talking to today, but I’m going to tell you about “Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges: Esoteric Secrets of the Art of Memory” by Charles B. Jameux. Freemasonry baby!

Firstly, it’s important to differentiate between speculative and operative Masonry. Operative Masonry is referencing Masons who physically work with stone. Speculative Masonry, which obviously evolved out of operative, doesn’t work with stone but instead use the operative trappings as metaphoric tools for self-improvement. Knowing this helps greatly with understanding the text.

Next up are memory palaces. You might have seen references to these in popular culture. It’s a mnemonic device that allowed speakers to remember key points for their talks by associating them with a different part of the building in which they’re speaking. When it was rediscovered, the process evolved, and the elements of these memory palaces were not intended to trigger the memory but would transform into talismanic objects with knowledge entirely new to the seeker.

“Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges” is a response. The author, Charles B. Jameux, had an article published in 1995, where he detailed that the art of memory wasn’t unknown to Masons and that they grafted it onto their own practices. This, in and of itself, wasn’t in much dispute, however Jameux puts the time of this earlier than most scholars had previously thought. Obviously, there was much debate after its publication, so “Memory Palaces and Masonic Lodges” is a thoughtful response to criticisms that were made after the first article’s release.

If you’re not overly familiar with Freemasonry, like myself, you’ll find this book to be an eye-opening look at some of the history and practices of Freemasons.

You can learn more here.

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Super Soldiers

If you follow me on social media, particularly my personal Twitter (@ElsonRebecca), you know I’m a fan of comic books. However, I haven’t read a lot of superhero comics and with the rise of the superhero comic book movie I’d like to learn more. That’s why I agreed to read “Super Soldiers: A Salute to Comic Book Heroes and Villains Who Fought for Their Country” by Jason Inman. Well, that and the delightful endorsements from a variety of interesting folks like Dan Aykroyd, Anthony Swofford (author of “Jarhead”), Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer of “I, Vampire” and “The Ultimates”), Dan Jurgens (writer/artist of “Superman” and “Captain America” and creator of Booster Gold), and more!

Let’s get to what you really want to know, who did Inman write about? Here we go, starting at the top: Captain America, Gravedigger, Captain Marvel, War Machine, Green Lantern (John Stewart), Captain Atom, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Flash Thompson, Isaiah Bradley, Sgt. Rock, Batwoman, Beetle Bailey (that’s right, Beetle motherflarkin’ Bailey), Nuke, The Punisher, Deathstroke, and Nick Fury.

Now, why do we care what Inman has to say? Well firstly, Inman is a comic book lover and writes about their characters with obvious affection and enthusiasm. He is the co-creator and co-writer of “Science!” for Bedside Press and “Jupiter Jet” for Action Lab Entertainment. He was also the host of DC All Access, DC Comics official web series, for over three years. And you know, before becoming a writer he served in the U.S. Army and Kansas Army National Guard, deploying as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This means that not only does he talk about the characters military experience, but he compares that with his own. It offers a different perspective.

So, if you’re looking for an interesting introduction to world of comic superhero characters, “Super Soldier” by Jason Inman is the book for you!

You can learn more here.

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Grimoire of Aleister Crowley

Many of you may have seen on social media me asking why I request review copies of books featuring group magic rituals when I don’t belong to a group. In the case of “Grimoire of Aleister Crowley: Group Magick Rituals” by Rodney Orpheus there are many reasons why even if you don’t belong to a regularly practicing ritual group you’ll want to read it.

Orpheus doesn’t just rattle off a bunch of rituals and call it a day. He gives you the background and history of the work. He carefully outlines any adjustments made and his reasoning for doing so. I found his research and insights quite informative and well worth the cover price.

Of course, the book is about rituals and “Grimoire of Aleister Crowley” is full of them. After all the background info and details, you get to the actual ritual. I love that at the beginning of each ritual the author lists the number of participants required, how long it will take to perform, how wordy the ritual is (how much text you’ll need to memorize or read aloud), and the list of equipment needed. He also provides diagrams of the way you’ll want the room set up for each ritual.

If you’re an occult nerd, like me, or if you’re interested in magic rituals for more than one, “Grimoire of Aleister Crowley” is a must read.

You can learn more here.

Shop your local indie bookstore <---This is an affiliate link to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use this link to purchase the book, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.