Archive for November, 2018


Around Halloween, I was sent a book by the author, Melanie Marquis to review. It is titled Carl Llewellyn Weschcke: The Magickal Life of the Man Behind Llewellyn Publications. I had just reviewed another book so I spaced this one out a bit.

My experiences with Llewellyn publications are so-so. They have books I used aplenty such as Richard Webster’s book on Cartomancy Playing Card Divination but they also have came out with a loooooooot of not-so-good, such as Silver Ravenwolf and Edain McCoy. (Silver is a post all on her own so I’ll save it for that. Ditto with Scott Cunningham) As far as Llewellyn goes in terms of “are they good to recommend?”, I usually try not to steer new people towards them because there’s a lot of fluff among the diamonds in the rough. They definitely cornered the metaphysical market and certainly gave it a major dose of capitalism, that is certain. Llewellyn is probably a strong part of the reason why I have to explain “I’m not Wiccan, I’m Pagan” to almost everyone I meet.

I’m not the only Pagan who feels this way, here’s a chatter thread from Non-Fluffy Pagans on Livejournal and an essay titled “Green Witchcraft: The Llewellyn Complaint“. Heck, the book I always recommend Where to Park Your Broomstick by Lauren Manoy isn’t published by them but by someone else entirely.

Now, back to the book.

It pretty much is a memorial book to the founder Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, published by Llewellyn (I almost want to say “obviously”.) It’s his life story, charming quotes from people who knew him or interacted with him, pictures from his life, things like that.

At least this book, unlike the last one I reviewed, has a bibliography in the back. That’s good.

The book starts with his early life, which I guess you could say was a semi-charmed kind of life. Private school kid from fairly well off and very atomic family in Minnesota that seems very Leave it to Beaver with a touch of occultism here and there. Very pampered and with no need to want, basically. Though framed as the “average American upbringing”, it really isn’t. Not every American kid goes to private school and their dad buys land for a new summer house – during the Great Depression and World War II, two instances in American history that weren’t exactly economic upticks. Maybe it is because I’m a Millennial – and a Black Millennial, at that – but it sounds like Weschcke came from wealth. His family wasn’t Warren Buffett but they definitely were pretty rich. Not average.

In Weschcke’s later life, he went to college, got a degree in business, joined his dad’s pharmaceutical company where he eventually became an executive, so on and so forth. Nothing inspiring, all bland. I’m not a White guy from a prosperous family that’s so wealthy, it could deftly deflect one of the worst economic downturns in American history. I’m a Black woman that was raised in the inner city from with a half immigrant family that constantly had fiscal turmoil (and still does). Hearing’s Weschcke’s life story really does not make me well up with “wows” and awe. It kind of irritates me.

There is a chapter on Weschcke’s involvement of the Civil Rights Movement. My prediction is: feels impassioned of the maltreatment of Negro folk and decides to go front and center, a bit Liberal White Savior/I’m-Totes-An-Ally style.

I had to laugh at the statement “It was a time when racism was common.” Uhhh, when wasn’t it? Like, there are lynchings going on now. I think the most recent one was a few weeks ago, if not this month. I actually have to check NAACP’s website for travel restrictions when I think of going to music shows out of state. I literally carry a hot shot and tool box, spare oil, an electric tire pumper and a funnel in my car in case I breakdown in sundown towns. Segregation still exist, it is more de facto and very much prominent. This was well before Trump got in, the hatred never left.

Annnnnnnnnnnnd I was right. Granddad started a St. Paul NAACP chapter in St. Paul in 1919, even was unanimously elected to board of directors. Weschcke hosted the 51st NAACP national convention. Hm, I wonder how many Black people worked at his companies – and of that number, how many of them were in lofty positions or was it the usual “Apply bleach the further you go up” thing companies regularly do, where it’s diverse at the bottom but not at the top? This chapter annoyed me. When it comes to Black history and the Civil Rights Movement, I enormously discount the actions of White people in it because the problem of prejudice in this instance is one that they created. You don’t get a cookie for “Mostly abstains from being awful”. That and it’s the NAACP, who has had missteps (backing Rachel Dolezal and the fact they tried to ice out Black Lives Matter, to name two). And how many Black authors has Llewellyn had? (Hint: Goose egg.) And the Llewellyn staff group picture seems pretty snowdrift to me. I think of all the pictures posted in the book, I only spotted exactly one (1) Black person. Uno. Ichi. Han-nah. Une. Yi. One. Classic White Savior, basically. Being a Black Pagan, I literally never saw any diverse representation from Llewellyn books. Ever.

The rest of the book is informative if you really want to learn about the person who created Llewellyn Books but it simply isn’t for me. If anything, learning about the man behind the books made me more annoyed than anything positive.

It is nice I was sent this book but, honestly, I would much rather appreciate more diverse books on much more diverse people. Y’know, books not centered on the White gaze. Especially in Paganism.

 

 

 

 

I was featured earlier this week on a podcast called Alt-Black Podcast! I talked how music got me into my faith, why I think dabbling is annoying, my experience with Afro-Punk and more! Give it a listen! I like that they gave me Baltimore Club bumper music!

 

I was contacted by Hachette Books/Ilex about a new book they had coming out titled The Witchcraft Handbook by Midia Star.

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Upon first impression of getting it, it looks well made and not very kitschy. I could sort of see this book in a metaphysical shop, which is good. I could definitely see it being sold in The Discovery Store more, though.

First thing I looked for was a bibliography because usually good books on magick have those (otherwise a person could say almost anything). There isn’t one here but noticed this book is more of a spellbook for beginners than an intro to Paganism with some spells in it. That’s sort of okay but I prefer info. The first proper book I read on magick, Where to Park your Broomstick by Lauren Manoy, was crammed full of this so it is pretty much my baseline for any magick book.

The book is very colorful and artistry is well done. It doesn’t look like it was dropped out of Tumblr and sold. That’s always a good thing. At least this book isn’t trying to copy Sephora’s bad ideas. (That witch kit is atrocious for so many reasons).

As for content, the book is extremely European based and strongly Wicca based.  Granted,  so was Broomstick. I’m not Wiccan, though, so there is that. But as for the Eurocentric info, I think books on magick nowadays should be way more diverse. Otherwise, it looks like magick just started in Europe and the world followed. So note that the book is very Eurocentric in its practices and perspective, which could make PoC readers easily feel like a fish out of water. Actually, any reference to anything non-Euro is super cursory at best. Like, very bland and even less in-depth than what’s mentioned of the Greco-Roman deities, which already isn’t much. That’s not good.

The book is also fairly cis women-centric. I mean, so is practically every Western book on witchcraft out there every but it creates a ripple effect that somehow ends up in my inbox. Questions of “why can’t [insert gender here] practice? What should I call myself, I’m a [insert gender here]? Is ‘witch’ still accurate?” pop up. If you practice witchcraft, you’re a witch, plain and simple. It would be nice if books reflected this a little better. It is good to focus on women but witchcraft didn’t appear as a result of feminism, witchcraft was a moreso natural occurrence of working with and influencing the world around them. Wicca is goddess-centric, true, but it should be noted that Wicca does not hold the copyright to all of witchcraft. Wicca is just one faith out of literal thousands, even when whittled to just faiths that use magick.

I do like that this book doesn’t give a shopping list that could make a newbie go broke quick. I definitely like how this book tries to be sensible with its targeted audience. However, I don’t agree entirely with the idea of “you have to believe it for it to work”. My personal practices – and my inbox, primarily my inbox – hold a different story. I always explain it like this: I personally know Black folks who legit don’t believe that racism exists, annnnnnnd they still get harassed and/or beaten by officers and racists, if not called slurs. The fact they don’t believe in something so extremely real as the ground they stand on didn’t keep the reality of that concept from still impacting them. You don’t have to believe in something to make it happen, if the right cogs are there, it will happen. If the “you gotta believe” bit were the case, I would get far less, “I dicked around and tried to summon a demon because I thought nothing would happen and now my apartment is haunted. Gimme a spell to fix my problem” letters. Much less.

Actually, I still remember the time I accidentally summoned a Throne angel by simply singing a ye olde gospel over and over with gusto. Never gonna do that again. Angels are not fun and you definitely don’t want to summon one, especially on accident. They do not look like “people with wings”, try “Wow, the makers of Bayonetta really did their homework. And all of the extra credit.” 0/10, would not accidentally summon again. I did not intend to summon a Throne. The thought of believing that such a thing would happen was the furthest from my mind – I seriously thought the song was about wheels and the sun, that’s it!

Long story short, you don’t need to believe in something for it to happen. Just the cogs to make it happen. Belief gives it boost, that’s for sure, but it is not the core.

Again, about the gods and goddesses referenced in this book: they are Greek/Roman deities. And a passing reference to Egyptian deities. And a teeny tiny touch on East Asian dragons. And none of Africa (outside of Egypt, which is usually whitewashed to the moon and back). I really don’t like this part  because I rather see more diversity in description. However, since this book is primarily constructed in the Eurocentric gaze, this is pretty much garden-variety practice. Though, the section about them is a very underwhelming for me. There’s a lot more that can be talked about in regards to deities and magick work. Ditto in regards to who the different deities are, some of the descriptions in the book gloss over them with too little depth. And that’s just the Eurocentric ones, the rest of the world hardly gets noted.

And here’s one bit I saw that I think is a bad idea: mixing deities during spellwork. Don’t do that. Stick to one pantheon per ritual. They will not work well with each other and they’ll be much less eager to work with you. It shows a lack of care and faith, which deities are not big fans of.

Moving on, there is an informative page on moon-work and candles to prep the reader on the spells in the book. This means the book will be using a lot of candle magick. That’s good for beginners. Also, because this is candle magick, I would like to remind folks to be careful and always have soil or baking soda around to throw on the flame if it turns into a conflagration. Or do what I did when I was younger and do all your magick work on the lip of a filled-up sink (unless you’re working with oils also, then throw in the baking soda, too).

The spells are broken up into sections, starting with love and sex spells. Each spell section has little “Did You Know” boxes in some of the spells. I like those because it embeds useful information right where the reader can see it and for that particular spell. Things like “how long do spells actually take” or “what are the best days for casting and why”. Helps keep things realistic and practical.

For the love and sex spell section, I like that there is the “don’t be dense about this” warning at the start that is very simple: Don’t play around, don’t control others and know what you want (as well as what you don’t).

The spells constructed seem very simple and straight-forward. Like I said prior, there isn’t a huge shopping list and the vast majority of the materials asked for are already in your home or can be purchased at the dollar store. However, they use British English (“sweets” instead of “candy”, “leather thong” instead of “strip of leather”) so be mindful if you’re not accustomed to it.

The section on love and sex seems very decent, I haven’t spotted anything that I have qualms with so far.

The next section is the friends & enemies section. The intro to section is very simple, especially about how you shouldn’t do magick when until emotional turbulence and that impinging on free will is wrong. The spells are nice, such as how to get better at making friends (note: not “get popular”, simply “make friends”), making gossip cease and getting rid of a bully.

In the “Friends and Enemies” section, they have a page on gemstone magick. It is quite cursory and simple. Too simple for my tastes because there’s so much that can be covered. For a beginner, it is important to keep things simple but not too simple.

The third section are spells for work and employment. It’s a bit of a first for me to see but useful all the same. Employment is a part of life and, thus, should be included. The intro keeps things simple: this is to help you, not do the leg work for you. Also, it will not make you rich in a week.

The spells are for interview success, procuring a job, dealing with unemployment, things like that. There are also spells for exams here, it seems to cover a lot of bases. Again, the spells seem useful. Also, for any spell that involves drawing money, I always look to see how much the spell makes you do, in terms of getting materials to do the spell. I dislike ones that assume you have a payload to work with. I noticed these spells ask for things you already have (like black pepper) or are very cheap and easy to get. One thing I also noticed is that the book neglects to mention that white candles can be all-purpose in case you can’t get your hands on a particular color.

The next section has “Home and Family” spells. This section shows that this book is not directed simply at teenagers but young adults and regular adults as well. There are spells for how to get an apartment, clearing out the energy from the last person, etc. And what I like most: NO SAGE. Sweet buttery Jesus, there’s no sage use in any of these spells, that is fantastic. I am thrilled to see that. Because there is more than sage out there.

For that reason alone, I think this is a great section.

The final section is “Destiny and Fortune Spells”. Though it sounds immense, they’re spells that generally help with luck and to maintain overall happiness. The spells are simple in this section, nothing too grandiose or difficult.

All in all, the book isn’t too bad, it fairly regular and plain jane. I really would like to see a magick book that wasn’t so Eurocentric, though. The Witchcraft Handbook is moreso a simple spellbook for beginners but that’s it. For a handbook, there wasn’t a whole lot of information that could make it a suitable reference guide. There’s little tidbits here and there so you have an idea of what you’re doing but nothing more than that. It’s just a plain book o’ spells and that’s that. No real background, no really vast information, nothing super deep.

As far as bookstore spellbooks go, it’s not too bad. It isn’t 5000 Spells but it can be useful. The spells are simple and easy, not intended to break the bank nor make you feel like you’re doing Ceremonial Magick 301. What stands out to me are how simple the spells are. They are reasonable and that is a venerable trait.

The Witchcraft Handbook is less of an actual handbook and more of a regular spellbook for newbies who are interested in the craft but just want to get to the “fun” parts. I wouldn’t generally recommend introduction books that are not information dense so while this book is good, I don’t think I would have featured it on The Arts! because of the lack of crucial information. The thing is, if you don’t have deep, crucial info, that’s how you get more dabblers and less actual practitioners. Dabblers don’t care about the background info, they want fast-food magick: just do something and it is done. To thwart that, having background and in-depth information helps.

Would I recommend this book to someone new to magick and Paganism? Nope. Not enough in-depth info. I’d point them to Broomstick instead. Would I recommend this book to someone who’s spent time in magick? It’s a strong maybe. The title is misleading so I would warn the person it really isn’t a handbook but a plain spellbook that has basic spells. Good for if you’re low on ideas or want something very simple but that’s about it.

 

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