Books I read in November

Lots of witchy books this month: I re-read City of Refuge by Starhawk; read Making Witches by Barbara Rieti, and I’m halfway through The Witch’s Athame by Jason Mankey.

City of Refuge by Starhawk

It was great reading the whole trilogy from start to finish. A lot of the flashbacks to earlier parts of the story made more sense (although they are very well written, so you don’t need to have read the first book in the trilogy to follow the backstory.

In many ways, City of Refuge is a more realistic book than The Fifth Sacred Thing, as it deals with people who have been wounded by racism and militarism and fundamentalism trying to establish a new, progressive culture in the middle of an oppressive culture. So it contains ideas that could be used to build a new way of living in the current system.

I still love The Fifth Sacred Thing very much, though.


Making Witches: Newfoundland Traditions of Spells and Counterspells by Barbara Rieti

This is a fascinating study of witchcraft beliefs and accusations in Newfoundland from the late 19th century up until the early 1990s. The author shows that popular belief was either that witchy powers were innate, or that they were acquired, either through a pact with the Devil, or through the acquisition of a book known as the Black Art Book, or Black Heart Book — apparently Newfoundlanders tend to say “heart” as “art” and vice versa, so it was hard to know what the book was actually called. There seem to have been more counter spells happening than actual spells, as the belief in witches was more widespread than the practice of witchcraft.

The first part of the book explores the sociological reasons for the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs: a strong ethic of reciprocity and mutual aid, which, when breached, led to fears of being bewitched or ill-wished, especially by women who were considered a bit odd; and mostly tightly-knit communities, for whom strangers were immediately suspect, although there was still an ethic of helping strangers.

The second part of the book contains accounts of witching and three vignettes of self-identified witches. The second half of the book was my favourite part.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of witchcraft in Canada.


The Witch’s Athame by Jason Mankey

Written in Jason Mankey’s clear, entertaining, and personal style, this is a pleasing addition to any witch’s bookshelf. I also liked the short passages contributed by other writers, especially the one from Angus McMahon about the athame showcase in his occult shop.

However, I don’t know which British Wiccans Jason asked about how they say athame, but most of the ones I know (including me) say uh-THAY-mee. I totally agree that we don’t know how it’s pronounced, so your version is as good as mine! Intriguingly, it seems that the early Wiccans said uh-THAIM, as a reporter covering an early Gardnerian public event wrote it as “thaim” in his newspaper article. Neither of these pronunciations is offered as an alternative in the section on how to pronounce it.

A more serious error is the statement that the “thorn” in the Kipling song “Oak and Ash and Thorn” is box-thorn. This species doesn’t even grow in England. The tree referred to in the rhyme is hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) which is a faerie tree in British folklore.

Nonetheless there are some excellent suggestions and rituals for choosing, preparing, and consecrating your athame. Its conversational style makes it an entertaining read, and it’s a comprehensive overview of athame lore.

The section on the Cochrane tradition of folkloric witchcraft is also excellent, and the section on the athame in the kitchen was very enjoyable.

There’s a comprehensive review of the book by Sable Aradia on Goodreads.

Other books

I’ve started Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, but I can’t get into it.

I’ve also started Folklore of Canada by Edith Fowke. It’s excellent but I got distracted by The Witch’s Athame.

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