Book Reviews

Waking the Witch (Book Review)

Part memoir, part exploration of the witch archetype, Waking the Witch is not your typical witchcraft book, which is to say it won’t teach you how to do anything. That’s not what it’s trying to do, so it isn’t a failing of the book. Rather, it’s a series of long essays on how witches have been portrayed historically and in pop culture through current shows like Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which will end with part four later this year.

She talks about Margaret Murray, Gerald Gardner, Charles Leland, Ronald Hutton. She also talks about The Craft, The Wizard of Oz, and Hermione Granger. She delves into the witch hunts and Malleus Maleficatum, but also delves into her adolescence as a young woman coming of age in New Jersey in the late1990s. The book’s theme is expressed on page 3, “show me your witches, and I’ll show you your feelings about women.”

She goes on:

The witch is a shining and shadowy symbol of female power and a force for subverting the status quo. No matter what form she takes, she remains an electric source of magical agitation that we can all plug into whenever we need a high-voltage charge.

She is also a vessel that contains our conflicting feelings about female power: our fear of it, our desire for it, and our hope that it can — and will — grow stronger, despite the flames that are thrown at it.

Whether the witch is depicted as villainous or valorous, she is always a figure of freedom — both its loss and its gain. She is perhaps the only female archetype who is an independent operator. Virgins, whores, daughters, mothers, wives — each of these is defined by whom she is sleeping with or not, the care that she is giving or that is given to her, or some sort of symbiotic debt that she must eventually pay.

The witch owes nothing. That is what makes her dangerous. And that is what makes her divine.

Witches have power on their own terms.

page 8

If you’re new to witchcraft, this ode to the witch will get you up to speed on who witches are and how society has thought about them over the centuries. If you’ve been around awhile, you will enjoy reminiscing alongside the author. The book won’t teach you how to cast spells, but it will remind you why you wanted to in the first place.

5 out of 5 stars

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power

Pam Grossman

Gallery Books, 2019

Book Reviews, Tarot

Kitchen Table Tarot (Book Review)

I got my first tarot deck on New Year’s Day 1999. I don’t want to name the book that I bought to go with it, but it was boring and took itself Very Seriously. It insisted that I would need to be disciplined and that I’d have to study the tarot thoroughly and systematically like I was getting a PhD in it before I could ever use a deck. It told me all about the Kabbalah and warned me against doing mere “readings” when I should be gaining enlightenment.

Sheesh. It’s a wonder I didn’t toss the deck and walk away.

Kitchen Table Tarot is not that book. This is the book I wish I could send back in time to my 1999 self. I would have learned the tarot faster and had more fun. Melissa Cynova is not only knowledgeable and experienced, she’s wise and funny. Funny? Yes. About the Lovers, she says:

Aw, come on. What a gorgeous image. The sun is shining high and bright, the Angel of the Outlandish Flaming Hairdo is giving a blessing, with a fog machine, the Tree of Knowledge (complete with serpent) on one side, and a burning true on the other.

page 71

This book covers everything you need to know from picking up your first deck to reading for others. The chapters are:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Care and Keeping of You and Your Tools
  3. The Ethics of Reading
  4. The Major Arcana
  5. The Minor Arcana: The Pips
  6. The Minor Arcana: Court Cards
  7. Professional Tarot Reading
  8. When Readings Go Weird

This book reads exactly like it promises: as though a friend were sitting down with you at the kitchen table to teach you the tarot. Cynova says she started writing it as a way to teach tarot to her friends, and it shows. I love that she encourages you to use the book during readings until you’re ready to do them without. Why is that so taboo? I mean, I understand if you’re charging big bucks for a reading and you just tell the client what the book says, but when you’re starting out and practicing, why should it be viewed as cheating instead of a valid method of learning? Because, although this book is interesting enough to read straight through, you won’t remember everything it says. If you read about each card as it comes up in a reading, you will associate the meaning with the situation and your skills will level up faster.

As the author says:

To me, tarot is a tool. How you choose to use that tool is up to you. It’s important to remember that without you, the cards are just pretty pieces of paper. You’re the one that drives the reading. Your intuition, your gift, and your connection with yourself and the universe or your client is what makes the cards come alive. your readings will only have as much integrity as you do, so use your tools well.

page 267

Melissa Cynova has another book coming out this September called Kitchen Table Magic, and I can’t wait to get my hands on that one.

5 out of 5 stars

Kitchen Table Tarot: Pull Up a Chair, Shuffle the Cards, and Let’s Talk Tarot

Melissa Cynova

Llewellyn Publications, 2017

Book Reviews, Tarot

Dark Wood Tarot (Deck Review)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tarot book and deck as beautiful as the Dark Wood Tarot. The last few years, Llewellyn has been printing the companion books in full color but this is the first one I’ve opened that has full page illustrations of the art rather than reproductions of the cards. This makes perusing the book feel like settling in with your favorite collection of fairy tales. The book and deck follow a character (the Shadow Witch) on her journey through the Dark Wood. It’s intended for use in shadow work, and the write-ups on each card include a description, a meaning, and a shadow (which corresponds roughly to what most books call reversals).

The artwork is gorgeous but I have to admit that I prefer the cards that depict humans. I find the animal cards underwhelming. Suits are swords, wands, cups and pentacles, though the pentacles look like apples that have been sliced in half. Courts are page, knight, queen, king. Swords are air, wands are fire. Strength is 8, Justice its 11. If you have any experience with RWS decks, you can read this one out of the box. The book is fantastic, so if you’re not experienced with tarot at all this set will be all you need to get started.

The book contains seven spreads, with names like the Shadow Self Spread and the Awaken Inner Magic Spread.

This is easily the nicest deck and book set I’ve ever bought. I want to shove the rest of my decks aside and spend some real time with this one.

The beautiful companion book
Cards with people (my favorite)
Cards with animals (not a fan)
pentacles that look like apples sliced across the middle (not sure what to think)

5 out of 5 stars

Dark Wood Tarot

Sasha Graham

art by Abigail Larson

Llewellyn Publications, 2020

Book Reviews, Tarot

ViceVersa Tarot (deck review)

The ViceVersa Tarot is unique in that the cards have no backs. Or, rather, instead of having an image that’s the same on the back of every card, each card has an image on its reverse side that is the reverse of the image on its face. In some cards the back looks like a night scene with the front looking like daytime. In others the backs reveal characters or objects out of the line of sight on the front.

The full-color book that goes with this deck has illustrations of each and calls them “this side” and “that side.”

Aside from the novelty aspect, this is a fairly standard RWS clone. Suits are chalices, pentacles, wands and swords. Courts are knave, knight, queen, king. Strength is 8, Justice is 11. Artwork is pseudo-medieval European and does not depict modern or diverse characters or situations. Honestly, I like the concept more than I like the artwork. I wish I connected with the illustrations more.

This is the kind of deck that could look impressive in a reading. My personal preference is to deal all the cards with “that side” up and flip them during the reading to reveal “this side.” This is because “that side” is often the back and the dark side so when you turn it over you’re revealing the front and brightening the spread. Like activating or turning on the cards.

5 out of 5 stars for the concept; 3 out of 5 stars for the artwork

ViceVersa Tarot

Massimiliano Filadoro and Lunaea Weatherstone

artwork by Davide Corsi

Lo Scarabeo, 2017

Book Reviews, Tarot

Pagan Tarot, new edition (Deck Review)

The first edition of the Pagan Tarot by Gina M. Pace came out in 2005. I had that deck but didn’t have the book. This edition is from 2019 and is sold in a box set with a full-color book. The illustrations of the major arcana are larger than the cards themselves, which makes them easier to study. Reading through the book cleared up some questions I’d had when I only owned the cards and they definitely make more sense now.

This deck follows the story of one character, a young female brunette witch. This allows the deck to tell a story, as you follow her character through her Fool’s Journey. The witch is racially ambiguous, but looks white or white passing on most cards. This is not a diverse deck. It is also not a deck that takes a favorable view of organized religion. Both churches and covens are portrayed rather harshly.

The art has a bit of a 90s vibe, especially in the clothing. In a few cards she’s dressed like she’s on an episode of the original Charmed. Suits are Swords, Wands, Chalices and Pentacles. Courts are Elemental, Novice, Initiate and Elder. The court cards are the most unappealing in the deck with Aces coming in a close second (why are Aces so boring in so many decks?!)

You may like this deck if you’re learning and exploring Wicca. It’s more Wiccan than generic Pagan. If you also happen to be a brunette woman, you could use the deck for personal work. It definitely reads more like a personal deck for spiritual readings than like a deck I’d read for others with.

This edition is more attractive than the first edition because the white borders have been removed and replace by a purple strip across the bottom.

First edition on top row with new edition below

When I received the deck, the cards were stuck together in one unfortunate clump due to their plastic coating. I peeled them apart and they shuffled easily and have thankfully not stuck together since. This deck also comes in a mini edition, which is tiny like the Everyday Witch Tarot mini.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Pagan Tarot, new edition

Gina M. Pace

Lo Scarabeo, 2019


Everyday Witch Oracle (Review)

I have been using the Everyday Witch Tarot for a few years and I honestly think the Everyday Witch Oracle is even better. The cards are larger, the people depicted are more diverse, and the art style is just as colorful and cheerfully appealing.

What the deck reminds me of most strongly is a reimagined Minor Arcana without the court cards. There are four suits: earth, air, fire and water, and ten cards in each suit. Within each suit the cards progress numerologically, from card one being the introduction to the element to card ten being its fulfillment.

I wish the book was in color like the book for the tarot deck; I’ve come to wish all tarot books are in color now. But this is a small book in black and white that fits inside the box with the cards the way oracle decks are usually packaged. For each card there is a short description, followed by three options: an action you can take, a divinatory meaning you can use in a reading, or magic you can do.

The biggest oversight is that the cards themselves are not numbered, so when you pull a card and want to look it up, you’ll be flipping back and forth in the book until you find it. I pulled a card called Meditation for Clarity and found its definition under “Air: Thought and Communication,” which makes sense except that the woman on the card is sitting quietly gazing into a pool of water, leading me to fruitlessly search for it under Water.

You will enjoy this deck if you’re looking for ways to work with the elements in your magical practice or if you already love the Everyday Witch Tarot and want a companion oracle that thankfully corrects the oversight of not featuring POC. You probably won’t enjoy it if you’re looking for something deep and heavy to use in shadow work. This deck is light without being trivial.

4 out of 5 stars (would be 5/5 if cards were numbered and labeled by element)

Everyday Witch Oracle

Deborah Blake

art by Elisabeth Alba

Llewellyn Publications, 2019

Black Lives Matter, Book Reviews

Me and White Supremacy (Book Review)

I’ve been doing art for the last two or three years, enrolling in classes on how to draw and paint faces. Let’s talk about white privilege in art classes. First of all, in 2020 there are still paint colors called things like “flesh.” Other names include nude or buff. They match my skin tone. If I want to paint darker people, the colors are things like butterscotch, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee.

Think about that for a minute. The color that matches my skin is labeled to show that it’s intended to depict skin, but the darker colors are labeled as food. Food. How often are you painting a cinnamon stick? Are you painting cinnamon sticks more often than you’re painting brown people?

Every class shows me how to paint a white woman. I finally enrolled in a class that showed how to paint various ethnicities and, while I did learn how to paint different skin tones, I can’t unequivocally recommend the class for BIPOC. The woman teaching the class was working from the premise that white was “normal” and that other ethnicities are defined by how they deviate from the norm. She even caught herself at one point and realized she’d said something “wrong” but instead of making a change, she laughed nervously and went on a ten minute rant about how all she meant by “normal” is that white people are the ones you see around you everyday.

So this is white privilege. I can enroll in an art class and know that the class is for me. I belong. If it’s a class on drawing or painting faces, I know that I’ll learn to draw and paint people of my ethnicity, who share my skin tone. I can take optional add-on modules for “variety.” I don’t need to take them to paint people who look like me. I can exist in an art class and never paint a single face that’s different from my own.

Me and White Supremacy is a book that challenges you to examine forces like this that shape your experience, whether you’ve been aware of them until now or not. The author calls it:

… a one-of-a-kind personal antiracism tool structured to help people with white privilege understand and take ownership of their participation in the oppressive system of white supremacy.


The book is set up to be used over a four-week period. Each day you’ll be introduced to a topic and then given journaling exercises about your relationship to that topic. Topics include:

  • white privilege
  • white fragility
  • tone policing
  • white silence
  • white superiority
  • white exceptionalism
  • color blindness
  • anti-blackness
  • racist stereotypes
  • cultural appropriation
  • white apathy
  • white centering
  • tokenism
  • white saviorism
  • optical allyship
  • being called out/called in
  • white feminism
  • white leaders
  • your friends
  • your family
  • your values
  • losing privilege
  • your commitments

The final chapter is called, “Now What? Continuing the Work After Day 28” and there is an appendix for using the book in a group, which borrows from books by Christina Baldwin like Calling the Circle and The Circle Way and the suggested structure will seem familiar to anyone who has read a Starhawk or Reclaiming book.

Why read this book and work through it? As the author explains:

If you are a person who wants to become a good ancestor, then you know that this work is some of the most important work that you will be called to do in your lifetime.


5 out of 5 stars

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor

Layla F. Saad

Sourcebooks, 2020

Black Lives Matter, Book Reviews

White Fragility (Book Review)

During the 2016 election, I was standing in a long line of voters waiting our turn, and a white woman in her late 50s took the opportunity to address the captive audience with her spiel that went something like this, “In my day, there was no such thing as racism. Obama invented racism. Nowadays everybody is oversensitive and suddenly they see racism where there was never any before.”

Delusional? Sure. But she was delusional in a specific way that’s not unique to her. It’s common among white people, and especially women of her generation. When she says there wasn’t any racism when she was young, she’s not lying. She’s saying that she lived in a bubble that allowed her not to see or address what was going on for black people in our country. She’s saying that bubble allowed her to ignore racism, pretend it was something from the long-forgotten past, and, most of all, think of herself as a good person. She’s saying that attitudes and opinions she’s held her entire life are now being called out for what they’ve always been: racist. And that makes her uncomfortable.

I can remember when I was growing up being told, especially of people’s grandparents, things like, “He might make some ‘off-color’ remarks, but we just ignore those. He’s old and doesn’t know any better, but our family isn’t racist.” What’s changed isn’t the amount of racism but the amount of patience for old people simply not knowing any better. Nowadays we expect people to learn and grow, and it’s perceived as an attack.

In White Fragility, Robin Diangelo says:

…pointing out white advantage will often trigger patterns of confusion, defensiveness, and righteous indignation. These responses enable defenders to protect their moral character against a perceived attack while rejecting any culpability. Focusing on restoring their moral standing through these tactics, whites are able to avoid the challenge.

p. 109

The author goes on to explain:

White equilibrium is a cocoon of racial comfort, centrality, superiority, entitlement, racial apathy, and obliviousness, all rooted in an identity of being good people free of racism.

p. 111

So when issues of race are addressed, white people immediately feel like they’re being told they aren’t good people and apparently being “nice” is more important in our culture than addressing issues and righting wrongs. As the author says:

White fragility functions as a form of bullying; I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me — no matter how diplomatically you try to do so — that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again. White fragility keeps people of color in line and “in their place.” In this way, it is a powerful form of white racial control. Social power is not fixed; it is constantly challenged and needs to be maintained. We might think of the triggers to white fragility … as challenges to white power and control, and white fragility as the means to end the challenge and maintain that power and control.

p. 112

If you’re new to books on race in America, start with White Fragility. It will help answer how a woman can stand in line in a voting precinct gerrymandered to have fewer people of color than are actually in her town and confidently assert that Obama invented racism.

It also has a list of resources with books, articles, blogs, podcasts and films to help you figure out where to go next on your antiracist journey.

5 out of 5 stars

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism

Robin Diangelo

Beacon Press, 2018

Book Reviews

Revolutionary Witchcraft (Book Review)

Revolutionary Witchcraft by Sarah Lyons is a book that I picked up, intending to flip through briefly and ended up reading in one sitting. It differs from the books I covered in 3 Books for the Magical Activist because it focuses less on magic and spells (those are mostly in the appendix) and more on power: what it is, how it works, and how to work with it. Lyons says:

Witchcraft is a witch + their craft. Half of being a witch is about coming into your own power and learning how it relates to the power of the universe, and the other half is what you actually do with that power.

p. 8

This is a book where I broke out the highlighter and a pen and went to work highlighting passages, underlining, putting stars in the margins and adding my own comments. Some people don’t write in books, but it works for me and it helps me when I come back to a book later to see what made an impression on previous readings.

Never let your dreams be small, or your magic will be small too. It is our job as witches to shift what people think is possible and, in doing so, change reality.

p. 69

The chapters are: A Witch’s Place Is In the Struggle; Shaking Off the Dirt; Dream Big; The Pathways of Power; Witches and Wilderness; and an appendix called A Spellbook for the Apocalypse. The entire book is important but perhaps the best chapter was The Pathways of Power, which covers power mapping in depth. Power mapping is something you may not have heard of but it will improve your magical goal-setting and your basic understanding of the world.

The only (tiny) problem I have with the book is that, although there are page numbers on some pages, most of the pages aren’t numbered. Instead, they have little stars in the corners. This is a cute design but makes the book hard to navigate. If the table of contents or index points you to certain page, good luck finding it. You’ll just have to flip back and forth or, I guess, use the ebook version. Even trying to quote for this review, I had to find the nearest numbered page and then count for the above citation. This is not that big a deal for most people who aren’t intending to cite passages and it’s certainly not a reason to overlook this gem.

It’s long overdue that we fight like we have something precious to lose and the power to win. Now is not the time to just take pictures of our altars, but rather to use them. Now is the time for revolution.

p. 21

5 out of 5 stars

Revolutionary Witchcraft: A Guide to Magical Activism

Sarah Lyons

Running Press, 2019


Everyday Witch Tarot Mini (Deck Review)

I’ve had the Everyday Witch Tarot for a few years and I’ve always found it charming and friendly. It comes in a box set with a full-color book engagingly written by Deborah Blake. Now it comes in a mini version, which I assumed would be something like the size of a standard playing card. I was wrong. It is in fact much smaller.

It’s actually so much smaller than anticipated that I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to shuffle it. I was. I’ve always found shuffling my decks relaxing and it was relaxing in the same way a larger deck would be, with an added element of cuteness. But the pictures are so small that if you were to do a reading with this and you hadn’t already worked with the full-sized deck or the app you might not be able to see much detail. You might not even be able to read the names of cards if you’re, ahem, over forty.

Priced at only about ten bucks, this is mostly a novelty deck. You could toss it in your purse and take it somewhere, but if it were a bit bigger (like the playing card size I expected), you’d be able to do the same.

If you already like and use the full-sized deck, you might enjoy the mini. If you don’t already own the Everyday Witch Tarot and you’re thinking about buying it, I’d recommend the full-sized version. The mini does not come with a book. It is quite adorable but not sure how useful it is.

4 out of 5 stars

Everyday Witch Tarot Mini

Deborah Blake

Art by Elisabeth Alba

Llewellyn Publications, 2020