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review 2016-12-28 22:31
The Hearth Witch's Compendium by Anna Franklin
The Hearth Witch's Compendium: Magical and Natural Living for Every Day - Anna Franklin

DISCLAIMER: This is a review of an uncorrected proof of THE HEARTH WITCH’S COMPENDIUM. It was received for free with no expectation of a review. The review may not reflect the final version of the book.

 

Over the past two decades, the Llewellyn publishing house has amassed a reputation for producing an inordinate amount of trend-following (and sometimes ill-researched) beginner witchcraft and New Age spirituality books. While the company has been trying to clean up its image for the last two or three years, they are somewhat reasonable for flooding the market with mediocre encyclopedias, compendiums, and similar collections of spells and folklore. As such, when Llewellyn introduces yet another witchcraft reference guide into the world, the book needs to work hard to stand out against its peers.

 

The HEARTH WITCH’S COMPENDIUM, thankfully, tries to be a refreshing take on the tired genre. The book can be divided roughly into three sections: food and drink, home life, and herbs/essential oils. Where most published spell collections focus on things like making charms or burning colored candles, the COMPENDIUM incorporates everything from wine-making to everyday soap into the titular hearth witches’ lifestyle. Anna Franklin’s evident expertise makes for a very well-rounded read, especially in sections like the aforementioned wine-making chapter. Self-sufficiency is the name of the game, although Franklin is more than happy to include interesting historical or scientific trivia to go along with the various recipes themselves.

 

However, there are a few noteworthy problems with THE COMPENDIUM’s writing style and organization. Since Franklin believes eliminating harmful products from one’s life is inherently magical, there are entire chapters so focused on practicality that they end up ignoring magic entirely. For example, there are nearly 150 pages between when essential oils are introduced to when their magical uses and correspondences are explained. Meanwhile, almost all the recipes are very short and easy to misinterpret. It’s a classic mistake that happens when an author includes only the basic information that they personally need without considering that the reader might not be at the same skill level as the them.  

 

As an author, Anna Franklin is one of dozens that started out during the witchcraft publishing boom of the 90s. Her reputation is typical of her demographic: most of her books aren’t noteworthy enough to recommend as must-read, but they’re not worth avoiding either. Her books tend to follow trends, and her most well-known are her Sabbat books and tarot decks. The COMPENDIUM feels like more of the same fodder, as it’s overtly trying to appeal to the organic living crowd. Exactly how much the reader will like it corresponds directly to how much they like being told repeatedly that chemicals are bad. The HEARTH WITCH’S COMPENDIUM won’t change that image of her, but it’s worth a look as a solid introduction to natural living with a magical twist.

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review 2016-11-03 20:01
Lifting the Veil: A Witches' Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual
Lifting the Veil: A Witches' Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual - Gavin Bone,Janet Farrar

When influential elders of the pagan and witchcraft community start to drift from the orthodoxies they helped establish, their published works tend to go a little squirrely. Neo-pagan writers can’t republish the same information repeatedly, while older witches tend to push overtly dated practices as universal beliefs. It often leads to a distinct disconnect to their writings and modern witchcraft/paganism. The more ambitious the title, the greater possibly of the book turning poorly.

 

In addition to aiming to be the definitive book on occult trance-prophecy and possession, LIFTING THE VEIL had a lot to live up to with two Wiccan icons at the helm. True to reputation, at first it looked like Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone would be the rare exceptions that grow better with age.

 

Part I of LIFTING THE VEIL details the history of trance-prophecy/mediumship from ancient times until modern day. Bone and Farrar blend together academic, historical, and spiritual resources to craft a complete image of three distinct types of trance practice: Wiccan/ceremonial Drawing Down the Moon, reconstructive Norse spaework, and Vodoun/Santeria possession. Neither author is compelled to create false equivalencies between the similar practices—a rarity in most mainstream Wiccan-oriented books. The prevalence of fraud is also explored in a serious and thought-provoking manner from a spiritualist perspective, another topic that is often ignored by other published authors. The research isn’t perfect, of course, but that’s only to be expected with non-academic writing. The fact that an effort was made at all is quite admirable. Aside from some questionable tangents regarding pseudoscience and psychology, the first third of the book is a solid read for any occult reader.

 

Unfortunately, the book unravels in Part II. The second section is dedicated to explaining the “four keys” behind the methodology of trancework. Said methodology evolved out of the authors’ own personal experiences and workshops, and it shows. It’s no surprise that LIFTING THE VEIL has a distinctly Wiccan slant, but beyond that it’s difficult to identify the audience Bone and Farrar were aiming for. Between the rampant UPG and baseline assumptions about both Wiccan and non-Wiccan beliefs, the advice and theology strays too far from the norm for a beginner to follow. Advanced Wiccans or ecstatic shamans interested in trancework might like it, assuming they haven’t found another system that already works well for them. Even then, there’s no proper transition between the heavily researched and the heavily personal, further complicated by the authors’ predisposition to speak of spiritual matters in absolutes.

 

Part III discusses rituals, exercises, and processions relating to trancework, and it’s a vast improvement to Part II. Rather than give step-by-step guides, the authors opt to analyze the historical backgrounds and psychological effects of the various techniques presented. There are also transcripts of deity possessions of various individuals included at the end. Advanced Wiccans might like the re-evaluation of some of their oldest traditions and the subsequent advice about injecting trancework into them. Everything is well organized and easy to reference in comparison to the previous two sections. Unfortunately, the subjects covered outside of structured rituals are lackluster, especially since the authors tend to repeat themselves throughout the entire book. Right when the book started to become interesting again, it ended.

 

While LIFTING THE VEIL is one of the better works on trancework currently available, it also leaves much to be desired. If the topic interests you, the book’s worth a read, but it’s hardly a must-buy for an aspiring occultist either.

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