Few amongst us have not heard the classic adage, “never judge a book by its cover”. Wise as this advice is, chances are most people have done just that at least a time or two.
If a dark, mysterious, full-on #witchaesthetic worthy cover is your cup of herbal tea, then you’ll likely melt faster than a beeswax candle left in the summer sun for the front of the book at the heart of today’s post: Witchcraft: A Handbook of Magick Spells of Magic Spells and Potions by Anastasia Greywolf.
However, there is a great deal to be said for going beyond even the most visually pleasing of covers and delving into the heart of a book.
That is precisely what I’ll be doing in this review post, which will provide a frank look at a relatively unique addition to the canon of witchcraft and spell books on the market today.
Author: Anastasia Greywolf
Page Count: 246
Publisher: Wellfleet Press
This is likely not the book you would expect based on the title
If you were to go off the title of this book alone, you might think that it was another offering that presented the reader with an array of magickal spells and portions. Perhaps those of an especially intense or esoteric nature.
You might not guess, however, that while those descriptors are true, the majority of spells contained within this visually pleasing book are anything but modern.
And you may be further surprised by the fact that a substantial portion of them involve wording that evokes or otherwise works with figures in the Abrahamic faiths (i.e., Jesus, The Holy Spirit, God, and various angels – a well as certain demons, too).
You see, dear reader, this book is a compendium of mostly historically sourced spells, potions, incantations, conjurations, symbols and omens (the latter three are housed in the final pages of the book) from various corners of the globe.
By and large, these are not what many of us would consider modern-day magickal workings. There is a fair number of things in this book that may raise some serious eyebrows.
For example, spells that call for extraordinarily hard to obtain ingredients, those that involve living (and dead) animals, others that pertain to corpses, and plenty that do not give a toss about respecting other peoples’ free will.
The spells and other information in this book are arranged by chapters devoted to different types of workings, with examples from various cultures around the world housed in each chapter.
While the author does tell us the culture or ethnic/religious group that the spell is connected to in a broad sense (e.g., Tuscan, Gypsy, Hindu, Gaelic, Native American, Hoodoo, broadly European, American, etc), and that’s certainly appreciated, she does not provide further details as to where – and when – exactly these spells and other workings were primarily in use.
A modest-sized bibliography at the back of the book informs us of the source materials Greywolf used in researching and compiling this book. Many are from the 19th and early 20th century, some are older still, others are newer.
The majority are from the Victorian and Edwardian eras and reflect trends in areas such as ethnographic, folkloric, occult, arcane religious and spiritual beliefs, and high magic(k) related research that was enjoying something of a heyday at the time.
The reasons for this are myriad. Interests in areas such as spiritualism, mediumship, the occult, secret societies (both old and, at the time, new – such as the Order of the Golden Dawn – alike), and high/ceremonial magic (e.g., Thelema) flourished during the Victorian era and on into the early 20th century.
This certainly helps to account in part for why various individuals were keen to research, translate (when applicable), and record information about traditional magical practices from various cultures at that point in history.
Interestingly, “Witcraft” does not cover or even hint at this fact, despite books from this time period being amongst the primary sources for the very spells that it houses.
A fascinating slice of history, not overly applicable to many magickal practitioners today
The spells and workings in this book are not the kinds that many who work with magick use today, particularly those in the Western world.
These are, again, for the most part, older spells, incantations and workings – right down to the often somewhat archaic wording involved with some of them.
For the most part, these are spells from another time.
From eras where the lines the between Abrahamic faiths (chiefly in the case of this book, Christianity and Judaism, including Kabbalistic practices), lingering Pagan beliefs, folklore and folk magic were often less clearcut than we might now assume them to have been, as we gaze at the past from the 21st century.
As well, it should be noted that this book provides instructions for working with the dead – in addition to spells to call forth various demons – two things that, generally speaking, are not something new witches may want to dive head-first into.
Indeed, these are areas that require a great deal of reverence, caution, safety, common sense, and understanding of what you are undertaking. Points Greywolf herself makes no mention of whatsoever, which I feel is borderline irresponsible at best and downright dangerous at worst.
While some modern witches and Wiccans may wish to try their hand at various spells in this book or to take inspiration from them, I suspect that a fair number of us will read this book for the fascinating slice of the magical past that it presents us with, more than as the guidebook the title may lead us to believe it is.
Witchcraft by Anastasia Greywolf could have been so much more
There was so much raw potential here and while the book does deliver in the sense of replicating and sharing various historically rooted magickal workings, spells, superstitions, and so forth, I would have loved it if instead of just being a collection of straight-up spells (etc), the author presented us with a smaller number of workings, but provided more historical context, research and meaning for each spell and potion that she included.
I will readily grant that in the case of historically sourced magical information, we may not know – or may only have vague ideas or guesses as to why – certain things were done, used, phrased or enacted as they were.
This information may now be lost to the ethers or time, retained in sources other than those used by the author, or perhaps handed down to but a few living souls at this point in time, none of whom may have been involved with the creation of this book.
Yet, as mysterious and sometimes seemingly strange as magical workings from centuries past may be to us nowadays, they are not always a complete mystery.
Even just the author’s own interpretation of why certain things were used/said/done would have been a welcome edition to this book.
Alas, we do not receive that. What we get is a series of various spells and other magickal workings from around the world, many of which call for items that exceedingly few of us would be comfortable using today (if we could even find them in the first place).
These spells, while empowering in some senses to the person carrying them out, rarely, as touched on above, factor in other people’s free will.
And then there’s the evocations and various wordings that utilize elements of Judeo-Christian faiths. While there are certainly modern-day Christian and Jewish witches, it’s fair to say that a good many of us who practice witchery and/or Paganism in the 21st century aren’t exactly calling upon Jesus or the archangels when we’re working spells.
Whatever our personal beliefs about, and potential connections to various facets of Abrahamic faiths, again, they are not overly common in the workings that a lot of us carry out or in the spiritual paths that we walk.
I understand and do not take issue with the fact that these inclusions are simply part of how the spells and potions were recorded – and potentially carried out back in the day by some individuals.
However, it is usually a tad unexpected, I find, to encounter a veritable array of magical workings in which these kinds of religious figures are interwoven.
And as one reads this book, it is important to remember that witchcraft is a practice. Unto itself, it is not a religion. So hence why it is possible to be an agnostic or atheist witch.
That said, it is also good to keep an open mind and to understand that, like with most spells the world over, you have the ability to reword and alter those presented in this book to align with your own beliefs/practices or to accept them at face value and make a personal decision as to whether or not you’d be down with giving them a go as they presently sit.
This does, of course, open up the pandora’s box that is the heated discussion surrounding things such as cultural and religious appropriation, which depending on your feelings towards these areas, you may interpret to be rife throughout “Witchcraft”.
How Witchcraft: A Handbook of Magick Spells of Magic Spells and Potions rates with me
I’m the first to give just about any book a fair shake. I try to be impartial. I don’t expect everything I read to be written the way it would be if I was the one penning a given book. And I understand that there is unquestionably an important place for yesteryear forms of magick both in the context of history and in today’s world.
It is as good as impossible to know how many people used the spells presented in “Witchcraft” in previous times, what the outcomes were for them, what roles magickal workings like this had in their daily lives, and how deeply they believed in the effectiveness of these spells.
Because they were recorded though, we know that they existed in the mind of at least one person – likely more.
We know that they had a place in their respective cultures, be it privately or publicly. And we know that at one point in time, there was lklia good many other spells and magical workings akin to those in this book for which we have no known recorded history.
And it is through the lens of history that I urge the modern reader to view and interpret the information housed between the aesthetically pleasing covers of Witchcraft: A Handbook of Magic, Spells, and Potions.
As much as I do consider myself to be a traditional witch in certain respects, “Witchcraft” the book has little relevance to my own witchery. The spells and workings it houses are not ones, for the most part, that I’d would ever give serious thought to doing.
For me personally, I just have too many moral and ethical qualms with many of spells, most of which hold no bearing in my current life.
The fact that this book primarily interests me from a historical standpoint, not a practical, hands-on approach way is not a negative unto itself.
However, when combined with the other areas where I felt it fell short, after a serious amount of contemplation as to my rating, I am giving Witchcraft: A Handbook of Magick Spells and Potions by Anastasia Greywolf three stars out of a possible maximum of five.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
There is no denying that the cover of this book – much like the charming monochromatic linocut illustrations by artist Melissa West that are liberally peppered through its pages – is absolutely beautiful.
It is, however, up to each reader to decide just how attractive – or not – the historically rooted spells, conjurings, omens and other information in “Witchcraft” is in their own eyes and through the lens of their own spiritual path.
Have you read Witchcraft by Anastasia Greywolf, and if so, what are your thoughts on this undeniably interesting book?