The mixed bag of books labeled mind-body-spirit is filled with an array of categories and subjects—including self-help titles on topics such as alternative health, positive psychology, mindfulness and meditation, and yoga, as well as occult and esoteric topics such as crystals, astrology, channeling, neo-paganism, divination, and auras. As different as these books may be, they have a goal in common: they offer readers tools for tackling problems and seeking personal growth. And amid the plethora of titles, for every season there are specific subjects around which books cluster and reflect the zeitgeist.
Among the most striking current trends in MBS books is the still-accelerating growth of interest in witchcraft. Peter Turner, associate publisher at Red Wheel/Weiser, points to a June 10 New York Times column by David Brooks, “The Age of Aquarius, All over Again,” in which Brooks wrote that, as a spiritual movement, “witchcraft is surging.” He added, “In 1990, only 8,000 Americans self-identified as Wiccans. Ten years later there were 134,000, and today, along with other neo-pagans, there are over 1 million.”
Turner and other MBS publishers say the appeal of witchcraft today is that it offers ways to tackle contemporary issues, such as female empowerment, political division, conflicts over sexuality, care of the environment, and health challenges. But the fascination with witchcraft is not new or a fad, Turner says. “There is a strong current of people whose commitment to the ‘craft’ runs very deep and is a genuine aspect of their identity and worldview.”
Empowering Witchy Women
In the #MeToo era, witchcraft offers models of powerful women. “Cats and cat references are ubiquitous in art, pop culture, politics, and the occult, and throughout history, they have most often been coded female,” Turner says. In September, Weiser releases Cat Call: Reclaiming the Feral Feminine by Kristen Sollée, with a foreword by Pam Grossman.
In the book, Sollée explores the significance of the cat in witchcraft: “Celestial, illusory, solitary—the archetypal cat and witch are cut from the same cloth,” she writes. “These shape-shifters have embodied various aspects of the archetypal feminine, their forms and flesh viewed as demonic contagions to be destroyed, erotic enigmas to be dominated, and liberating identities to grasp for agency.” Sollée is the founding editor of the sex-positive feminist website Slutist, as well as a lecturer at the New School and at colleges and conferences across the U.S. and Europe.
Joel Fotinos, v-p, editorial director, and publisher at the St. Martin’s Essentials imprint, says witchcraft seems to be making a comeback. SME’s entry in the category is Modern Witchcraft: Goddess Empowerment for the Kick-Ass Woman (July 2020) by Deborah Blake, who argues for witchcraft as a female-focused religion, a method of self-care, and an avenue for personal growth. “Many women are feeling frustrated, frightened, triggered, and down-right furious with the current social and political environment, but also feel powerless to create positive change,” she writes. “Witchcraft can give them both a sense of personal empowerment and a number of goddesses through whom they can channel those feelings in healthy and productive ways.”
Wicca embraces nonconformists and welcomes members across the spectrum of sexual orientation, gender identification, and lifestyles, she writes. “For women, however, the greatest appeal may be the worship of a goddess (or goddesses).” Blake is a Wiccan high priestess and the author of Everyday Witchcraft andThe Little Book of Cat Magic.
The election of Donald Trump spurred new political activism: in 2017, speaker and author Michael Hughes posted online “A Spell to Bind Donald Trump and All Those Who Abet Him” and called on other witches to join him in casting the spell on Feb. 24, 2017. Books on politically motivated magic followed, and the trend continues with Revolutionary Witchcraft: A Guide to Magical Activism by Sarah Lyons (Running Press, Nov.), which introduces the history and practice of witchcraft as political resistance.
Lyons writes that the movement is not really new. “More people have gotten interested in witchcraft and magic,” she notes. “At the same time, there has been a resurgence of activism and political engagement that American life hasn’t seen in decades. While these two things might seem wildly different at first, there’s a long history of witchcraft being used as a tool of political resistance, from the witch hunts of early modern England, through the Salem Witch Trials, to today.”
The book provides guidance for “magical organizing” and spells that can be customized for various issues. Lyons is a writer, activist, occultist, and witch, as well as an active member of the Democratic Socialists of America, serving on the New York City chapter’s Ecosocialist Working Group.
Tackling climate change is becoming increasingly urgent, and there are books that reflect the relevance of witchcraft to environmentalism. In Wild Witch: A Guide to Earth Magic (Weiser, Oct.), Marian Green writes that Wicca is grounded in the natural world and can reconnect practitioners to nature. A wild witch discovers that every living thing has a spirit: “By perceiving the tides of Nature and working with rather than against them, we will all gain in confidence, health and satisfaction with life. By restoring some of the sense of wonder we had as children, and permitting ourselves to relearn our inherent magical skills, we may find shortly that our whole world has been changed for the better.” Green (The Complete Book of Aquarian Magic) is a British author who has worked with magic, witchcraft, and the Western mysteries since the early 1960s.
Mental and physical health is under siege in the modern world, and preserving and enhancing wellness has become a central cultural quest. In Wellness Witch: Healing Potions, Soothing Spells, and Empowering Rituals for Magical Self-Care (Running Press, Sept.), author Nikki Van De Car offers rituals, spells, and recipes for healing remedies—tinctures, tonics, mantras, and meditations—that aim to unite body and spirit for what she calls “mystical wellness.” “Everyone’s connection to their own spirituality is different, and my goal here is to invite readers to investigate what feels right to them,” she writes. “Whether it’s hearkening back to the herb witch practices of our ancestors, or calling on their own intuition to create something entirely new, there is something deeply powerful—even magical—in making something yourself, for yourself. For me, wellness magic isn’t just something you do, it’s a way of life.” Van De Car is the author of Practical Magic and Magical Places.
Witchcraft as a way of life is explored in a series from Sterling Ethos (see “MBS Publishers on the Power of Series,” p. 35). The Witch’s Way by Shawn Robbins and Leanna Greenaway (Oct.), part of the publisher’s Modern Day Witch series, is an illustrated guide to such concepts and practices as nature magic and divination, hedge witches and druids, and working with spirit guides, angels, goddesses, and gods to cast spells and tap the psychic power of plants. Robbins is the author of The Good Witch; she and Greenaway coauthored Wiccapedia and Simply Tarot.
Also from Sterling’s Modern Day Witch series is The Crystal Witch (Nov.), coauthored by Robbins and Greenaway, a guide to using crystals in magical practice, with an A to Z list of the most commonly used crystals and their properties; spells for everything from healing to protection to divination; information on crystal circles, wands, and sabbats; and instructions for choosing stones and charging them with spiritual energy.
Another book in the series, Wiccan Kitchen by Lisa Chamberlain (Apr. 2020), includes recipes for dishes such as magical fortification vegetarian soup, lucky money stir-fry, and a tropical love smoothie, as well as dishes to celebrate sabbats and Wiccan holidays throughout the year. Chamberlain is the author or coauthor of more than 20 books on Wicca and magic, including Wicca Book of Spells, Wicca for Beginners, and Wicca Herbal Magic.
Arin Murphy-Hiscock digs into the roots of Wiccan praxis in Wicca: A Modern Practitioner’s Guide (Adams Media, Aug.). She explains its traditions, beliefs, and rituals, writing, “To live Wicca means living in awareness, in peace, in balance, and in harmony. It means living with the goal of every action contributing positively, and every situation teaching you something.... Wicca is power: personal power, willpower, and spiritual power.” Murphy-Hiscock is the author of The Way of the Green Witch, Pagan Pregnancy, and Solitary Wicca for Life.
The Ultimate Guide to Witchcraft: A Modern-Day Guide to Making Magick by Anjou Kiernan (Fair Winds, Jan. 2020) is a beginner’s guide to such practices as communing with the dead, using amulets for protection, building a magical apothecary, and curating a crystal collection—all designed to harness the power of the moon, the elements, and the seasons. Kiernan is the hedge witch and herbal alchemist who owns Light of Anjou, a witchery shop and virtual sacred space for magic and mysticism in Maine.
Amanda Yates Garcia writes her personal account of embracing witchcraft in Initiated: Memoir of a Witch (Grand Central, Oct.). Garcia transcended poverty and sex work to find power and independence through witchcraft. “We become witches the moment we realize we are not at the mercy of the patriarchal world,” she writes, noting that “the moment you stop seeing yourself as a supplicant and start seeing yourself as a participant, a coconspirator, an agent, that shift marks the moment you become a witch.”
In the book, Garcia weaves elements of mythology and tales of magical women throughout history with the story of her own life. She is a writer, artist, and professional witch; her work has been featured in Glamour, Goop, LA Weekly, the London Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Time Out.
Spell casting is central to witchcraft and is the subject of a number of books in 2019. In September, Hampton Roads will publish How to Make Bad Things Happen to Awful People: Spells for Revenge, Power & Protection by Deborah Gray. Taking a humorous approach to revenge, Gray shows readers how to take revenge on boyfriends who stray, backstabbing gossips, and other miscreants using hexes, incantations, and spells such as “Dragon Slayer,” “Nanny No Go,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrel,” “Troll Stalker,” and “Jinx Off.” Gray has written nine books, including How to Turn Your Ex-boyfriend into a Toad (coauthored with Athena Starwoman).
Revenge is also the subject of Bitchcraft: Simple Spells for Everyday Annoyances & Sweet Revenge (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct.) by Kerry Colburn, who writes, “Bitchcraft is here to inspire every woman to use her own inner power to get back at all the people who do her wrong in big or small ways.” She offers spells for many situations, including this one intended for backstabbing coworkers: “May your computer act wonky/ And same with your phone/ Until the only solution/ Is to just work from home.” The book features two-color illustrations, inspirational quotes, and group-cast spells for the bitchy witch to get her friends involved.
Mama Moon’s Book of Magic by Semra Haksever (Hardie Grant, Apr. 2020) is a magical handbook of spells intended to enhance work, health, friendships, and romantic relationships. Also included are seasonal spells for celebrating the equinoxes and solstices and instructions for manifesting magical intentions and creating vision boards, learning the basics of palmistry, and using playing cards to read tarot. Two-color illustrations and inspirational quotes are included. Haksever was a fashion stylist before starting Mama Moon, a collection of magical scented candles and potions. She is the author of Everyday Magic: Rituals, Spells, and Potions to Live Your Best Life and Love Spells.
Book of Spells by Jamie Della (Ten Speed, Oct.) collects more than 50 spells for all occasions and describes tools and traditions of witchcraft so that aspiring witches can use them to manifest their desires and explore the mysteries of magic. Della, a practitioner of healing arts, leads workshops and retreats on earth-based spirituality at the Northern California Women’s Herbal Symposium. She is the author of eight books, including The Wicca Herbal and The Wicca Cookbook, and writes the Herbal Journeys column in Witches & Pagans magazine.
Along the same lines is Spellwork for Self-Care from Potter Gift (Clarkson Potter, Dec.), which collects 40 spells for different purposes, all under the rubric of self-care.
Spells with Seasoning
Another essential technique in witchcraft is the use of herbs in spells and divination, an ancient tradition rooted in paganism. In Herbal Magick: A Guide to Herbal Enchantments, Folklore, and Divination (Weiser, Sept.), Gerina Dunwich combines a spell book and an herbal guide to teach readers how to tap the magical powers of herbs using the roots, flowers, leaves, and bark of common plants. The book includes an easy-to-follow guide to herbal spells for many purposes. Dunwich is a professional astrologer, occult historian, and the author of Exploring Spellcraft: How to Create and Cast Effective Spells.
Along the same lines is The Modern Witchcraft Guide to Magickal Herbs (Adams Media, Dec.) by Judy Ann Nock, who writes about herbal magic as a natural way to practice witchcraft and describes how herbs can be used in many ways to help set intentions through every part of a witch’s process. With information on 100 herbs, the book explains which are best for specific kinds of spells and how to use them, including step-by-step instructions for making herbal bundles, potions, and sprays. Nock urges consistent practice: “True spiritual growth comes from challenge and change... [but] change for the sake of change is not necessarily good. Any spiritual technique must be practiced for some time before you see or feel the benefits.... Constantly altering what you do to spiritually connect with the Divine serves only to confuse your subconscious.” Nock is the author of The Modern Witchcraft Book of Natural Magick and The Modern Witchcraft Guide to the Wheel of the Year.
In The Witch’s Herbal Apothecary: Rituals & Recipes for a Year of Earth Magick and Sacred Medicine Making (Fair Winds, Jan. 2020), Marysia Miernowska teaches readers how to use plants, seasons, and cycles as magical tools to tap into earth magic, as well as how to process plants and make remedies in harmony with the seasons. Miernowska, coauthor of the previously mentioned The Ultimate Guide to Witchcraft, is the director of the California branch of the Gaia School of Healing & Earth Education and the master herbalist and owner of Wild Love Apothecary.
One herb in particular has been drawing the attention of publishers. John Hays, director of sales and marketing for Inner Traditions, says that with the advancing decriminalization of cannabis and the success of Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, “we’re in the midst of a psychedelics and cannabis movement.” Inner Traditions has responded with Cannabis for Couples: Elevate Your Relationship and Enhance Intimacy by John Selby (Inner Traditions, June), which draws on the author’s NIH-funded psychedelic research and decades of experience as a couples therapist to show how enjoying cannabis together in the proper setting can strengthen a couple’s bond, improve communication, enhance sexual pleasure, and foster emotional and spiritual growth.
Llewellyn’s books on the topic include High Magick: A Guide to Cannabis in Ritual & Mysticism by Philip H. Farber (Apr. 2020), which explores the spiritual and magical uses of the plant, with step-by-step instructions and guidance from ritual magicians and cannabis proponents showing how the herb is used in magical practice. Farber is a magician and hypnotist who teaches at MaybeLogic Academy.
Wake, Bake & Meditate: Take Your Spiritual Practice to a Higher Level with Cannabis by Kerri Connor (Llewellyn, May 2020) might sound like a cookbook, but instead it provides guided meditations for using cannabis in spiritual practices, for physical and emotional healing, to enhance relationships, and to improve one’s affinity for magical spells. Connor includes recommendations of particular strains for specific purposes. She is the author of Ostara: Rituals, Recipes, and Lore for the Spring Equinox and editor of the Pagan Review, a website that reviews pagan products.
Another psychoactive compound that changes minds is the subject of LSD and the Mind of the Universe by Christopher M. Bache, with a foreword by Ervin Laszlo (Inner Traditions, Nov.). Bache personally explored that mind-bending terrain through 73 high-dose LSD sessions conducted over the course of 20 years. “The sheer power of the catalytic energy unleashed by this protocol kept driving me through one experiential barrier after another, repeatedly expanding the territory of engagement,” he writes. “Eventually, my sessions became a periodically painful but steadfastly ecstatic journey of cosmic discovery.”
In the book, Bache makes the case for the value of psychedelics in spiritual growth. He is professor emeritus in philosophy and religious studies at Youngstown State University and adjunct faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Books also cover other avenues and tools for practicing the craft. Intuitive Witchcraft: How to Use Intuition to Elevate Your Craft by Astrea Taylor (Llewellyn, Apr. 2020) provides techniques for melding intuition and witchcraft in a way that is emotionally and spiritually satisfying. The book—designed for both beginners and advanced practitioners—features exercises, examples, activities, and rituals to help readers find their own way to a personal magical path, as well as insights from writers, thinkers, and leaders in a variety of fields. Taylor is an author, witch, and fire dancer who owns Blessed Be Box, a company that sells “rituals in a box” for the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter holidays.
Though witchcraft is an earth religion, there are ways for city dwellers to be witches, too. Urban Magick: A Guide for the City Witch by Diana Rajchel (Llewellyn, Mar. 2020) shows how to connect with the ecosystems of cities and tap into their energy with spells for navigating city life, techniques for working with spirits and elements, and exercises to boost creativity. Rajchel includes historical background on the purposes behind ancient and modern cities, and how architecture and population density affect magical practice. A third-degree Wiccan priestess in the Shadowmoon tradition (an American eclectic Wiccan tradition), Rajchel has written for the Beltane Papers, Circle, Facing North, and SageWoman.
The horse has been a powerful force in human culture, and in Horse Magick (Weiser, May 2020), Lawren and Domenic Leo offer spells, rituals, chants, and meditations based around equine imagery. Numerous traditions and deities are represented, and no contact with actual horses is required to work this magic; instead, accessible tools such as crystals, candles, and tarot cards are used. Because of the psychic power that they ascribe to horses, the authors argue that it is time for witches, warlocks, magicians, and other practitioners to embrace equine magic. Lawren Leo owns New Moon Books, Crystals, and Candles, a metaphysical boutique in Pompano Beach, Fla.; Domenic Leo has taught art history at Duquesne University, Youngstown State University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division. He lectures throughout the United States and Europe.
Witches are a diverse lot, writes author and illustrator Sonia Lazo in Witch, Please: Magical Musings on Life, Love, and Owning Your Power (Chronicle, Aug.). Some witches look like the popular conceptions of mysterious black-clad women, some don’t; some use herbs and crystals, some don’t; some craft their own spells and create their own rituals, while some rely on traditions. Lazo’s illustrations show inclusive, body-positive images that remind readers that anyone can be a witch in their own way.
Returning to Roots
One consequence of the popularity of witchcraft has been the proliferation of modern interpretations, and in What We Knew in the Night: Reawakening the Heart of Witchcraft (Weiser, Sept.), longtime practitioner Raven Grimassi argues that practices from traditional witchcraft have been obscured. “Over the years,” she writes, “I have come to envision the Craft as an old tree. It has its roots, which are the oldest part. The roots provide nourishment for the tree and keep the tree in place so that it does not topple over. The tree... also puts forth new branches and flowers/fruits in each new season. I liken this to the new practitioners and the new systems of Witchcraft that arise over the years. However, if no one (or no thing) tends the roots... it eventually withers and dies.” Grimassi (1951–2019), author of more than 20 books, was a leading authority on witchcraft, the occult, and spiritual development.
Another return to ancient roots, Slavic Witchcraft: Old World Conjuring Spells and Folklore by Natasha Helvin, comes from Inner Traditions in August. Helvin learned the secrets of ancient Slavic magic and healing from her family as a child, and watched her grandmother and mother use magic to help neighbors and friends. Helvin presents a practical guide to the ancient magical tradition of Russian sorcery and Eastern Slavic magical rites that includes instructions for more than 300 spells, incantations, charms, and practical rituals. Born in the Soviet Union, Helvin is an occultist, hereditary witch, priestess in the Haitian Vodou tradition, and scholar of other magical traditions.
Weiser’s The Living History of European Shamanism: Tracing the Roots of Modern Witchcraft by Radomir Ristic (Jan. 2020) explores the ancient roots of shamanistic practice in Eastern Europe through history, anthropology, folklore, and religious studies, with detailed information on how it was developed, sorted by region. Ristic tells tales of shamans who transform themselves into wolves and butterflies to combat evil Balkan zombies and vampires past and present. Ristic is a Serbian author specializing in the magic and ethnology of Southeast Europe, South America, and the Caribbean.
Grounded by Ritual
While many Americans leave traditional faiths behind, they sometimes miss certain aspects of religion, including its comforting and grounding rituals. Many MBS practices involve rituals, but some new books are more explicitly focused on the subject. The Rituals: Simple Practices to Cultivate Well-Being, Deepen Relationships, and Discover Your True Purpose by Natalie MacNeil (Chronicle, Nov.) offers the history and meaning behind sacred rituals and leads readers through 40 ritual practices. The book features watercolor paintings, gilded edges, and foil stamping. MacNeil is a motivational speaker, meditation teacher, and the founder of She Takes on the World, a community for women entrepreneurs.
Interest in indigenous cultures is part of the MBS worldview, and in Mask (Mandala Earth, Sept.), documentary photographer and National Geographic explorer Chris Rainier illustrates in art and photographs the traditional ritual masks used by indigenous peoples around the world, recounting his work to preserve the ritual objects and ceremonies of the endangered cultures where they are disappearing. Rainier’s work began with the masks of New Guinea and expanded to include traditional masks from other cultures, such as those used in initiation rituals in Burkina Faso, Bön Buddhist masks hidden in a Nepalese monastery in the Himalayas, the raven and bear regalia of North American First Nation peoples, and the Krampus masks of the Austrian Alps. Pico Iyer contributes the foreword and anthropologist Robert L. Welsch provides ethnographic field notes. Rainier is director of the Cultural Sanctuaries Foundation, a global program focused on legally preserving biodiversity and cultural heritage.
Finally, though the idea of sexual rituals may be foreign to Western culture and religion, Igniting Intimacy: Sex Magic Rituals for Radical Living and Loving by Rowan Bombadil (Llewellyn, Dec.) seeks to remedy that. Bombadil describes such practices and rituals as erotic shapeshifting, ecosexuality, and ecstatic breathwork for individuals and partners of all genders, orientations, and bodies. The book underlines the inclusivity of the MBS worldview and covers topics such as self-love, conscious communication, and sacred sex. Bombadil is a U.K.-based queer sex witch, psychosexual coach, and interfaith minister dedicated to bridging the binaries between sex and spirit.
Below, more on mind-body-spirit books.