The Witch’s Bookshelf: Urban Voodoo (Book Review)

urban

Urban Voodoo, A beginner’s Guide to Afro-Caribbean Magic By: S. Jason Black and Christopher S. Hyatt, Ph.D.:

I have long felt that Voodoo (as well as hoodoo and all of the other various offshoots), has been by far the biggest gap in my cultural, religious, magical knowledge. So I was excited when I was able to snag this book.

However, I ended up quite disappointed. Now it is firmly established that this a beginners sort of book, so I was prepared for that. What I was not prepared for was the brute condescension with which they argue against most other religions. In fact, it felt as though they should have titled this book ‘why Voodoo is better than every other religion under the sun’. To really drive my point home, there are fifteen chapters in this book, but no real concrete knowledge until chapter ten (which is a chapter devoted to divination, most of it commonplace).

So in the end, while I felt like I learned something new, I really was left feeling that they could have put more work into the back part of the book, and condensed the front, even just a little. That being said, if you are looking to fulfill morbid curiosity, or find strong refutations of Christianity, this book will serve you well. If you are looking to really learn about the framework of Voodoo practice and history, I would spend my well earned money elsewhere.

 

Any suggestions for good Voodoo/Hoodoo ect. guides?

The Witch’s bookshelf: Instant Magick

Christopher Penczak’s ‘Instant Magick’

Instant magick Christopher Penczak

One word: visualization. This book is full of various visualizations intended to aid you in practicing your craft on the fly.

The title ‘Instant Magick’ makes it sound as though one should get out their mixing bowl, and wala! But spoiler alert, instant magick isn’t quite like that. Instead instant magick focuses on performing magic without the traditional tools, or anything physical and tangible for that matter, simply the direction of your own energy.

The first part of the book is great for those who are new to magic, or even just curious. It is a well written and researched overview of the commonalities in traditions. You get the sense that Penczak is well studied and well practiced. I enjoyed this first section immensely, even learned a few odd things.

The spells that follow in the middle of the book are for various small things, because he makes quite clear that the bigger the difference you want to make, the more time and effort  you have to spend. Most spells are intensely practical, if not a little silly feeling at first. Like the ‘find a parking spot’ spell, or the spell to make a computer work. Penczak puts great emphasis on not just using this as a Grimoire, but on learning the theory and practice, and crafting your own spells. The spells in the book serve as a good templet to help you understand the nature of his work and ideas. They also come chalk full of information about things like which Gods and Goddess are best to call upon for certain spells, or which colors or planetary influences work best ect. It borders on a compendium.

In fact the entire end of the book is devoted to a more in depth, less Grimoire-like section. You can also find more traditional spellcraft like healing and imbuing objects with your energy. In this section he reminds us constantly that there is no permanent substitute to traditional magic, this is more of a supplement. He does suggest trying to perform a traditional ritual mentally as well, but still only in the context of a supplement.

All in all I found this book an interesting departure from the typical spell books crammed with ingredients that one must obtain. It felt very twenty first century. So if you are looking for a slightly fresher take, you might enjoy this book. Penzczak’s readable and conversational style also makes this a good book for beginners in the craft.

How about you, do you ever practice without ritual and ritual tools?

How I accidentally met other pagans

I’m a solitary witch. I was also raised with a heavy emphasis on the stigma of witchcraft of any kind, (AKA it’s all Satanism you know). So when I converted, it wasn’t exactly a celebration, much less a publicly disclosed decision.

Now honestly being a solitary witch doesn’t bother me much at all, I’m not looking for a coven or anything, at least not at this point in my life. I am content here with my books and my exploration (which was tentative at first). But every once in a while it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one in the world who doesn’t subscribe to some brand of the Abramic religion.

So how does one find evidence of other pagans, without putting a huge sign on your back that says ‘hey I’m a witch, wanna try converting me?’ (to my Christian friends, I’m glad you’re Christian and you’re happy that way, but I wasn’t. Remember my religion is my choice, just like your religion is your choice.)

The bookshelf of course.

I’m a hopeless bookworm. Always collecting various religious books (not just occult), and my favorite place to do this is at the local thrift shop. Most of them have a nice section full of either general religious books, or if you’re lucky an alternative religion section.

That’s how I met a few pagans, and funny thing was, we didn’t even have to say it. It was more like- oh did you see this book? I wonder if all these cards are here. No, I have way too many of those manuals at home, they suffice me well enough.

I guess sometimes you find light in the most unexpected places in life.

Have you ever met someone who believes in the same religion as you somewhere you didn’t expect?

The Witch’s Herb Garden: Drying Herbs

The Witch’s Herb Garden: Drying Fresh Herbs

I’ve always wondered about drying herbs (or any plant for that matter), I mean how useful would that be! But it all seemed so…mysterious? Difficult?
I had already started an herb garden, just a small one, a little of this, a little of that (everyone loves mint right). All those nice herbs were just going to seed until I decided to give drying them a try. Here’s what I learned along the way.

What do I need to get started?: Very little. Of course you need the herb you would like to use (doesn’t really matter where you got it, maybe you asked a neighbor nicely…). Maybe a little something fresh to throw in your cooking, maybe a little something to use in a spell, your choice.
I use sowing thread to hang my herbs, you can buy a pack of it for super cheap at the local massive chain store of your choice. A little piece of cloth is also useful, just to wrap around the herbs to keep off dust, but this is optional really.
The last thing is something to store them in. You can use any glass jar or plastic container you’d like, just make sure it’s clean, dry and sealed. If you want to do powered herbs you can pick up a neat set of glass vials from the craft store for about ten dollars. I love these, they work so perfectly! The bonus is if you get the right set you can just keep them all tidy in the package.

Let’s get drying!: I suggest starting small, do a little test batch if you can, three or four leaves/sprigs of your chosen plant. I just recently dried some oregano for spaghetti, it came out splendid!
It’s usually suggested to harvest to leaves early in the morning after the dew has dried up, simply for fuller flavor, but if you’re drying something strong like sage or oregano this isn’t all that necessary. Try both ways if you like, or just one, maybe you’re not an early riser.
Pick the best leaves (but not all, unless you want to kill the plant), wash them, dry them a little. Shaking them dry should be sufficient but patting with a paper towel never hurts either.
Take them by the stem and tie them together. I like to double my thread over then tie the end to the stem so that you have a neat hanging loop all ready to go.
Here’s the hardest part, find somewhere to hang them!
For years I was under some strange impression that herbs were supposed to be hung in the sun, not true. The best place is somewhere shady and dry, the least humidity the better. Otherwise you might end up with a moldy rotten mess.
There are all kinds of clever ways you can hang them. One of my favorites is the idea of a simple board with hooks, maybe some cute words painted on it, but no need to get fancy (unless you want to). Just hang them anywhere you could hang anything else.
Now it’s time to wait. It won’t take any longer than a week. The thinner the herb the faster the dry. If in doubt, check them every few days.
Once they are dry it’s all up to you what you want to do with them, the world is your oyster! I like to crush mine to powder and store them for use in cooking, and maybe an odd spell here and there (the more time and care you put into a spell the better).

Have an herb garden? What are your favorite herbs to grow? How do you use them?

Blessed be!

Reading Tarot Cards

So you’ve selected a beautiful deck of tarot cards, or at least thought about it, and are now itching to delve into the future. But where do you start? What do you do? There are tons of books on reading tarot, seems everyone has an opinion on how to read.
An opinion.
Before you rush out and buy every book ever written on how to do it right, why not give this a read?
This is my no nonsense, personal, from experience advice.

Buying/borrowing: Going advice is to get a brand new deck (if you haven’t already). The reason is simple, energy. If you pick up a used deck god knows what energy resides in it. You can take the risk, that’s your call, but I know I put a lot of energy and feeling into my own deck (good energy mind you), I’m sure other readers do as well, and who knows what sort of darkness they might leave behind.
You could borrow from a good friend that you know well, but it’s nothing like having your very own deck.
Depending where you’re shopping, it can cost anywhere from forty dollars to nothing at all (I’ve seen giveaways before), but average for a pretty nice set is about thirty to twenty dollars. If you have the money the market is yours. Find a deck you like. You can always change decks later on if you like. I myself bought a second deck, but I’m so damn attached to my first deck I haven’t used the second one yet. Something easy and classical is a good bet. I advise against anything Crowley at this point. Why? Simply because you’ll be over your head in Kabbalistic terminology.
Shy about buying? Me too! Stores like Barnes and Nobels carry tarot cards, sometimes on sale. You can peruse online if you like, then call the store to place it on hold and simply (and discreetly) pick it up at the counter. This saves the shy (or religiously guilty) a trip to an occultish store, or alternatively, strange charges on your credit card.
Take whichever course is easiest or most discreet for you.

So what now?: Break them in. Imbue them with your energy, be near them.
I used the method of sticking them in my pillowcase for three nights, not super comfortable I know. You could probably get away with shuffling them whenever you get the chance for a few days, or three. Why three? Three is a holy/sacred/magical/lucky number, you can’t go wrong with it.
If you’re witchy go ahead and bless/consecrate them!
This is also a good time to read the handbook and familiarize yourself with the cards. There are so many it can be overwhelming at first, but I suggest reading through it at least once. Start with the major arcana, these have powerful symbolism. The minor arcana are broken into four groups. This is basically like a deck of playing cards, in fact you can use an average deck of playing cards to tell your fortune too. Each of the four groups in the minor arcana has an element and a symbol. These are magical symbols and magical ideas. If you’re a witch you’ll be like a duck in water! The four elements are air(sword/athame),Fire(wand),water(cup/chalice),and earth(coin/pentacle/shield). Each one will effect a reading differently, and each one tends to deal with a different aspect. For example, water is the element of the suit of cups, it is often nurturing and tends to point towards relationships (family, friends ect.). In fact many of these cards are positive in meaning, unless they are upside down.
Wait! What? Upside down? What do you do if a card in your reading is upside down?
Relax, no sweat! Upside down cards usually denote the exact opposite of the right side up card, in fact your book will likely list both readings.
As you go along you will develop a better base knowledge of the cards as well as an intuitive connection with them. Some people say knowing the traditional meanings of the cards hinders your intuition, but for me it feels like a platform to build on, not to strictly rely on, but to build on. Look at the pictures first of course before leafing through your guidebook. Consider how they fit with your question, how they make you feel.

Let’s talk about scary stuff: So you’ve familiarized yourself with the cards, and uh oh, what’s this? There’s a death card!? You are praying fervently that you never ever, ever, ever, see the card in your reading!
But you will, eventually.
Don’t freak out, this card usually means a change, a new start. Why? Because cards are overwhelmingly symbolic, not literal.
The burning tower is much more ominous, although the disaster that it brings can vary in degrees and be negated by surrounding cards. I received this card in a reading back when I was still new to this. I didn’t understand or foresee the implications, but I ended up in a living hell (long story short). That being said I will discuss what to do when you receive a bad reading in the next section.
I believe personally that all magic and fortune telling is tapping into our personal well of power and intuition. That being said, I don’t believe that it is given or controlled by God/angels/demons/Satan. If you are firmly convinced that these messages come from Satan/demons, I’m going to stop you right here, reading cards is probably not for you, at least not until you can disabuse yourself of the notion. Understand this though, if you look for the light, you will find it, the same can be said of the darkness.

Your first reading: Your first reading may or may not be accurate, this depends on your proclivity and seriousness.
I suggest doing your first reading alone. Don’t try to read for other people just yet, reading for other people is tons harder, trust me. Pick a simple but clear question, don’t be vague, vagueness is your enemy. Also pick a simple layout. There are so many layouts you can use, if you google tarot layouts you are going to be overwhelmed. I suggest using a simple past, present, and future layout. This consists of three cards in a row, one for the past, one for the present, one for the future. I will use this in my following example. This is a good time, if you are fairly serious about reading cards to take a notebook and write the date and query, as well as the answer when you have finished. I have a small notebook just for this purpose.
Now, get comfortable, relax, bring yourself into a meditative state. I like to light a candle myself, then hold the cards in my lap and a meditate a little (I also like to go skyclad, it feels right, but if you’re terrified someone is going to walk in on you reading tarot cards stark naked, better not hehe). I then concentrate on feeling the energy flowing from the base of my spine all the way to the top of my head and out (through my chakras) then out of my hands and into the cards. This works exceedingly well for me, but it might be difficult for a beginner. You don’t have to do this of course, but if you want to give it a try, just remember, practice makes perfect. Whatever you do, or do not, I suggest at least telegraphing your query through your fingers and into the cards. Take as long as you like, until you’re comfortable, it doesn’t have to be long either, it all depends on how you feel.
Ok let’s shuffle the cards. My shuffling routine is a little long and complex, but it also adds to my meditative state. I tend to think of the question while I shuffle, nothing else. If your mind wanders just pull it back, it’s ok. I start by shuffling them as you would a normal deck of cards, a sort of riffle shuffle. I do this three times. Then I split the deck in half and set aside one half and shuffle the other in the same manner (three times again), then shuffle the remaining one before shuffling the two back together. Lastly I shuffle them by spreading them out on the floor and jumbling them up (known funnily enough as the corgi shuffle) three times. When I do this I try not to consciously flip any of the cards, but if it happens, it happens. If you are in doubt as to which way you should turn a card, just pause and then turn it in the direction that feels intuitively right, because, if you haven’t guessed already, reading cards is very intuitive.
If a card falls out, or turns during shuffling take note of it. If it turns up in the reading it may be extra important.
My technique when it comes to readings is obviously a very feel my way approach. There are other techniques out there (like the order of the golden dawns’ technique) that are very rigid and feel cold to me. I spread my cards out like a poker dealer in front of myself, which means a regular sized deck is perfect for me. Then starting on the left side I move my right hand over the cards slowly until my finger begins to tap a card (kind of like automatic writing), I take that one out and put it in its position in the layout, then start all over again.
The whole tapping thing probably sounds pretty strange to you. That’s ok. What’s important is that you go with your feeling as to which card you pick, however that feeling manifests itself, maybe a tingle, maybe a warmth, maybe just a hunch. This is something that becomes natural with time.
So here is the example of a simple reading I promised. Now I’ve picked three cards, and laid them out in a row (face down), one for the past (it is helpful to think about what the card is for while you pick it), one for the present, and one for the future. At this point I stack the deck back up and set it aside. I turn the cards over one at a time, taking time to look at them and consider them. The three cards in this example are-
The ace of swords, reversed.
The fool.
The two of cups.
After looking these over I tend to thumb through my booklet, I actually have two booklets that I use, but it’s better to start with just one. Swords are difficult, and a reverse ace of swords tends to denote loss, I feel like this is a reasonably reading for my past. I know from experience that the fool denotes starting out on a new journey, one that might be full of danger, but I like to look at the booklet anyways and sort of peruse the words and see what jumps out. This seems to say that I am right on the brink of a new journey in my life. The two of cups tends to denote a love commitment, something big maybe, marriage or a boyfriend, some nice relationship.
Now let’s suppose that I want to know more about this possible relationship. I have learned by trial and error that this is the time to ask. This also applies to bad readings, this is the time to ask things like, how do I avoid this? Or how do I deal with this? If you don’t ask, you won’t know. The future is no way and no how set in stone, you control your future not visa-versa. In this reading though we might want to ask, who is this person?
After I write down the cards from the initial reading in my notebook I shuffle them a bit and throw them back into the deck. I then do a simple shuffle three times and spread the cards out again. With my new question in mind I pick two new cards. I can do this as many times as I like, until I’m satisfied that I’ve explored all the aspects of the question. This is by far the best way to use the cards to your advantage.
There is no need to rely on your cards solely, a good dose of common sense goes a long way. I have found my cards to be amazingly accurate, but I never stop using my common sense.

So what are your experiences with tarot cards? Thoughts, comments, questions? Put ‘em below!

Blessed be!