New books focused on the mind, body, and spirit—an enormous category encompassing topics from psychology to self-help—are essential today, their publishers say. Covid-19 has forced millions of Americans to remain housebound, where they’re anxiously avoiding a pandemic, grieving for those struck down, and fretting about their health and economic future. In response, dozens of publishers are releasing books that seek to enlighten, soothe, inspire, and even bewitch readers in need.
“The forced slowdown of the pandemic has made readers turn inward and reevaluate themselves, their priorities, what they want to change, and what they want their lives to look like going forward,” says Jen Adams, an editor at Sounds True.
Rituals for respite
Self-care titles are on the rise—particularly given concerns that Covid-19 could resurge come fall. And rituals can play a key role, according to new books releasing this year. “Rituals can provide a sense of hope in a time when we don’t know what might happen next,” says Keyla Pizarro-Hernandez, an editor at MBS publisher Rock Point. “They provide spiritual reassurance that something positive will come out of this and we will be okay or at least make us feel like there is something we can do to protect ourselves... to get us focused on our intentions and purpose.”
Rock Point has two upcoming titles on ritual in its illustrated Zenned Out Guides series by Cassie Uhl, both out in September. The Zenned Out Guide to Understanding Auras: Your Handbook to Seeing, Reading, and Protecting Your Aura offers methods intended to cleanse and heal one’s energetic field, while The Zenned Out Guide to Under-
standing Chakras: Your Handbook to Understanding the Energy of Your Chakra System features techniques aimed at strengthening the mind, body, and spirit.
“People are hungry for clear, simple instructions on how to access their own intuition, particularly in times like this,” says Joel Fotinos, publisher and editorial director of St. Martin’s Essentials. When people feel overwhelmed by health advice and headlines citing death tolls, “there’s something so natural and intuitive about being able to step out of that stream of noise and into a deeper, more personal kind of spiritual connection,” he adds.
Among Essentials’ forthcoming titles is Diana Cole’s Spirit Translator: Seven Truths for Creating Well-Being and Connecting with Spirit (Aug.), which argues for how readers can find their own relationship with a spirit guide.
Even the most ordinary routines, like walking the dog, can be reframed as self-care rituals, according to Casper ter Kuile in The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices (HarperOne, June). Psychologist Ruth Williams examines the spiritual benefits of combining items such as dream catchers or worry beads with meditative rituals in The Mind Remedy: Discover, Make and Use Simple Objects to Nourish Your Soul (Leaping Hare, Sept.).
Kathryn Nicolai, a former meditation and yoga teacher, draws on the appeal of childhood bedtime routines in Nothing Much Happens: Cozy and Calming Stories to Soothe Your Mind and Help You Sleep, which is named after her storytelling podcast and which Penguin Books will release in October. Also in October, Penguin Books will offer Richie Bostick’s breathing techniques for physical, mental, and emotional health in Exhale: How to Use Breathwork to Find Calm, Supercharge Your Health and Perform at Your Best.
The number of books related to ritualistic themes signals a shift in approach for many MBS authors, says Jill Alexander, executive editor for Fair Winds. Today’s MBS books “allow the reader to weave more of their personal expression into how they use the content,” she adds. “Content is not as declarative as it used to be. Instead, writers invite you into a process you inform with your own ideas, your own magic, to inform your spiritual life with your own knowledge.”
Two new titles from Fair Winds by energy healer and artist Anjou Kiernan aim to inspire new rituals for readers to practice in their home and throughout the year. The Book of Altars and Sacred Spaces: How to Create Magical Spaces in Your Home for Ritual & Intention (June) offers DIY projects, such as instructions for building a sacred fire pit, while The Ultimate Guide to The Witch’s Wheel of the Year: Rituals, Spells & Practices for Magical Sabbats, Holidays & Celebrations (Jan. 2021) introduces readers to Wiccan sacred days, traces the pagan roots of Judeo-Christian holidays, and suggests ways to merge and personalize traditions.
Healing is another major theme among MBS self-care titles. Shambhala’s new books include Kate O’Donnell’s The Everyday Ayurveda Guide to Self-Care: Rhythms, Routines, and Home Remedies for Natural Healing (July), which promises applications for “every aspect of health and wellness,” according to the publisher. Sam van Schaik’s Buddhist Magic: Divination, Healing, and Enchantment through the Ages (July) introduces readers to divination, spells, and other rituals that incorporate ancient Buddhist practices.
In Discover Your Dharma (Chronicle, Jan. 2021), Sahara Rose, host of the spirituality podcast Highest Self, delves into ancient Vedic concepts and makes them relevant in the modern era. Cara Bedick, acquiring editor for Chronicle Prism, says, “Listening to your truth and working on becoming aligned with your dharma brings energy, creativity, and inspiration—all things people are looking for right now.”
Matt Licata, former associate publisher for Sounds True, has written his own book for the publishing house. A Healing Space: Befriending Ourselves in Difficult Times (Nov.) is intended to reassure readers who may be walking “a disorienting, difficult, messy—or just weird—journey in life,” says editorial director Haven Iverson.
A fusion menu
While the wellsprings of MBS inspiration and advice are wide-ranging, some writers do stay primarily in one religious or philosophical lane. Christian spiritual disciplines are described in Beguiled by Beauty: Cultivating a Life of Contemplation and Compassion (WJK, Oct.), by seminary professor Wendy Farley. Church Publishing offers meditations and prayers for Christians struggling with depression in With Sighs Too Deep for Words: Grace and Depression by Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld (June). Lessons in Krishna consciousness are central to The Way of the Monk: How to Find Purpose, Balance, and Lasting Happiness by Gaur Gopal Das (Sounds True, Aug.). And another monk, Tibetan Buddhist and meditation teacher Gelong Thubten, offers A Monk’s Guide to Happiness: Meditation in the 21st Century (St. Martin’s Essentials, August).
Many more MBS authors, however, fuse ideas from myriad cultures—past and present. They adopt, adapt, and promote beliefs and practices from across all borders of race, religion, ethnicity, or folk tradition. This can raise concerns, however. Red Wheel/Weiser associate publisher Peter Turner says cultural appropriation is “a challenging problem for a number of reasons, with extreme views on both sides of the question as to what is appropriate.” He adds, “We tend to strike a middle path, looking closely at the authenticity of the author’s connection with the teachings and practices of the tradition.”
John Hays, marketing director at Inner Traditions, sees this mix-match-meld approach not as syncretism but rather as an embrace of tradition. He says readers seek “foundational ideas and concepts so they are turning to the themes and tools we find in perennial wisdom,” noting, “Whether it’s a distinct philosophy or a unique, integrated approach, they want results.”
Hays points to Sacred Energies of the Sun and Moon (Bear & Co., July) by Erika Buenaflora, which is based on the Latin-American practice of curanderismo, a blend of Judeo-Christian (especially Catholic), Native American, Caribbean, Spanish, Moorish, and African practices and beliefs.
A bevy of publishers are serving wisdom-seeking readers who want to know that the books they pick up aren’t touting concepts born yesterday. These titles draw on centuries-old traditions in an effort to connect them with modern practices.
Asatru: A Beginner’s Guide to the Heathen Path (Weiser, Aug.) is an introduction to the contemporary revival of Asatru, a religion based on Northern European pre-Christian spirituality “that’s quickly growing in Europe and America,” RWW’s Turner says.
In Sovereign Self: Claim Your Inner Joy and Freedom with the Empowering Wisdom of the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita (Sounds True, Dec.), Acharya Shunya examines traditions that are 5,000 years old and translates them into a modern idiom. “We didn’t just invent this,” says Sounds True executive editor Jennifer Brown. “It’s not a yoga book as we think of yoga as an exercise. It’s a yoga reference book. It’s about retraining your mind for a different kind of life.”
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness titles—and many blending all three approaches—fill a shelf in the MBS realm with books for people awake to their many forms and enlightenment opportunities. In Firefighter Zen: A Field Guide to Thriving in Tough Times (NWL, Oct.), firefighter Hersch Wilson shares techniques based in Buddhism for keeping calm, present, and resilient when, he writes, “the universe asks us, are you tough?” And Robert Moss’s book Growing Big Dreams: Manifesting Your Heart’s Desires Through Twelve Secrets of the Imagination (NWL, Nov.) offers tools intended to help one achieve success and contentment that are available to everyone, including mindfulness, meditation, active dreaming, visualization, and imagination. Georgia Hughes, editorial director for New World Library, says Moss’s guidance will help readers “visualize the change they desire, [which] will be especially appreciated as we all begin to move toward an altered world.”
Sounds True also has a forthcoming title that draws on dreams: Dreams of Light: The Profound Daytime Practice of Lucid Dreaming by Andrew Holecek (Aug.), which invites readers to find the same benefits of “dream yoga and sleep yoga” by day. It’s aimed at readers “interested in the psychology of consciousness,” Brown says.
Another book from Sounds True, Freedom for All of Us: A Monk, a Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on Finding Inner Peace (Nov.), is by three authors—Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André, and Alexandre Jollien—who combine ideas on training the mind with meditation, mindfulness, and yoga to lose thoughts and emotions that afflict us
Simon & Schuster will offer three new titles to ease troubled minds: My Pocket Meditations for Anxiety (June), which features 150 meditations from yoga teacher Carley Centen; My Pocket Meditations for Self-Compassion by Courtney E. Ackerman (June), also with 150 meditations for self-awareness and acceptance; and Let Forgiveness Set You Free by Meredith Hooke (July), which takes a Zen approach to releasing anger and resentment.
And in The Genius of Yoga: How Yogic Meditation Can Unlock Your Innate Brilliance (Shambhala, June), authors Alan Finger and Peter Ferko look beyond yoga poses to delve into philosophy and coach readers in a whole-body form of meditation.
Witches are still rising
Finally, in a continuation of a trend that began in 2018, MBS titles centered on practicing witchcraft and magic remain popular at a range of publishing houses. There’s even a “shot” of fun: Simon & Schuster’s Adams Media imprint’s WitchCraft Cocktails (Sept.), in which Jilia Halina Hadas, an anthropologist and mixologist, serves up 70 drink recipes for rituals and celebrations.
The readership for witchcraft and magical books is largely interested in strengthening the mind, body, and spirit, according to St. Martin’s senior editor Daniela Rapp. “Many women are frustrated, frightened, triggered, and down-right furious with the current social and political environment but feel powerless to create positive change,” she says. “Witchcraft can give them a sense of personal empowerment.” For example, Deborah Blake, a Wiccan high priestess, kicks right to the point with Modern Witchcraft: Goddess Empowerment for the Kick-Ass Woman (St. Martin’s Essentials, July), a guide to self-care through goddess worship and magic.
Alexander, at Fair Winds, calls magic “the new agency, particularly for young people,” adding, “It’s a way to understand yourself and feel empowered. They are looking inward for a sense of authority, for sovereignty, not outward to established institutions.” She sees this paradigm shift reflected in titles such as The Complete Grimoire: Magickal Practices and Spells for Awakening Your Inner Witch (Sept.), an illustrated handbook of Wiccan rituals and practices by Lidia Pradas, who promises to awaken readers’ “inner witch.”
Witchcraft writers realize their readers may not have cauldrons handy or be comfortable with a pagan vocabulary. In Moon Spells Journal (Adams Media, June), author Diane Ahlquist suggests substituting “my thought” for “my spell,” for example. “Diane wants to make sure her practices and rituals are open to all sorts of people, whether they’re practicing witches or just interested in different New Age topics,” says Brendan O’Neill, editor-in-chief at Adams Media.
Prolific witchcraft writer Arin Murphy-Hiscock, also known in her 10 books as the Green Witch, has penned for Adams Media The Green Witch’s Grimoire (July), an introduction to recording spells, rituals, and recipes for a personal magic handbook.
Spells for the Modern Mystic by Kelley and Brandon Knight (HarperDesign, Sept.) features “rituals of self-empowerment, personal protection, and personal transformation... self-love and finding love and related to financial well being and security,” according to the publisher.
Witches are everywhere and anyone, according to Major Arcana: Witches in America—a compendium of portraits by photographer Frances F. Denny. Due out in October from Andrews McMeel, the book features essays on modern American witchcraft by each portrait subject as well as by The Witch Wave podcaster Pam Grossman. Alison Adler, who edited the book, says, “This is a book for anyone who is interested in the ways witch—as an identity, a set of spiritual practices, a diverse spectrum of traditions—belongs to those who claim it.”
Whether by witchcraft, meditation, or simple home-centered ritual, MBS publishers are banking that readers want healing and hope now more than ever amid tense and frightening times. Chronicle Books’ Bedick says, “A recent BookScan presentation showed how people’s book-buying habits are following Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and self-actualization was at the top—I think we’re going to see a continued interest in self-work.”
Cathy Lynn Grossman is a religion and ethics journalist living in Washington, D.C.
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