Book Review: Lisa Chamberlain’s Wicca for Beginners and Wicca Book of Spells

I had already read a couple of Lisa Chamberlain’s books, (five, actually!) and so was very happy to review the new editions of Wicca for Beginners and Wicca Book of Spells. My favourites to date had been Wicca Finding Your Path: A Beginner’s Guide to Wiccan Traditions, Solitary Practitioners, Eclectic Witches, Covens, and Circles and especially the audio version of Wicca Living a Magical Life: A Guide to Initiation, Self-Dedication and Navigating Your Journey in the Craft. These new editions from The Mystic Library (Sterling Publishing) did not disappoint.

First of all, I LOVE hardcover books. These little introductory books (they stand at around 130 – 160 pages) are beautifully bound in hardcover, with gorgeous artwork throughout. I love a book that also has illustrations and artwork, as I believe it’s important to engage the imagination and appreciate more than just the written word. Good artwork can lift a book, as anyone who has worked with colour correspondences alone can testify. Wicca for Beginners has a lovely blue theme running throughout, and Wicca Book of Spells a purple and pink theme. They are just so nice to hold in your hands, hardcovers. And they last a whole lot longer than paperbacks.

Wicca Beginners GuideWicca for Beginners: A Guide to Wiccan Beliefs, Rituals, Magic and Witchcraft does just what it says on the tin. It’s a great guide for someone new to the path, or for anyone who wants to refresh their learning. In fact, if I were to recommend a beginner’s book to anyone new to the path, this book as well as Scott Cunningham’s works would be my first choice. Chamberlain goes into history of the tradition, which is something that Cunningham’s books are seriously lacking. She uses language that is easy and flowing, friendly and unassuming. I really like that in books that teach about anything, as I am easily put off with pomposity and obscurity.

Indeed, this book covers everything neatly and precisely: how the path evolved, the history, core beliefs, working with the divine, the altar, tools and clothing, ritual components and magic, as well as advice for aspiring Wiccans. It really covers a lot of material in an easy to swallow format. The author has really done her research, and has walked her talk, sharing and expressing her knowledge with skill and clarity, as well as her plain common sense.

Wicca Book of SpellsWicca Book of Spells: A Beginner’s Book of Shadows for Wiccans, Witches and Other Practitioners of Magic again covers a wide range of material. While a couple of paragraphs on what a Book of Shadows is would have been nice, this tome dives straight into spellwork such as love spells (with the usual caveats on manipulation of individuals), prosperity spells, health and well-being spells and an eclectic mix of spellwork in the final chapter that includes kitchen witchery, elemental magic and more. Again, there is common sense and a good framework throughout this book to help the reader on their forays into the realms of spellcrafting. One small critique is that I would like to know if the spells included in the book are traditional, or if the inspiration came from somewhere historically. I have no qualms in new spells vs old spells, and I am a strong believer in working with what you’ve got to hand. This information may have been left out in the editing process, to keep the book to a size that works for beginners, though this is purely conjecture on my part. The spells were easy to follow and understand, and Chamberlain, like myself, is not averse to substitutions to make it work on a more personal level.

All in all, I found both these books really charming, and well written. Lisa Chamberlain was a pleasure to correspond with as well via email, and I look forward to more of her work in the future. I think she is a real asset to the Wiccan community, providing good information delivered in a friendly manner that everyone can understand and work with on any level. If you are just starting out, or know someone who is, or simply want to add to your book hoard of good books, then look up Lisa Chamberlain and her work – I recommend it all.

The Importance of Lammas/Lughnasadh

P1050820 (3)I recently read something in a new Wiccan book release that made me sad and a little frustrated. In this work, the author stated that Lammas/Lughnasadh celebrations on the Wheel of the Year in Modern Paganism can feel like an outlier, a festival that for many people is hard to connect to, understand or celebrate. If you do not live in a rural area, why celebrate this festival at all? As such an important festival to our ancestors, we have to realise the importance of this festival not only in this context, but also in the modern day.

Historically, Lammas/Lughnasadh is the celebration of the first harvest, or games/festivals occurring just before the first harvest. It was an opportunity for people in a rural setting to meet others from the surrounding countryside, often from many miles away, in order to make trade deals, marriages and also enjoy games of competition. When your world is quite small as you live and breathe your farm/village life, the chance to get out and meet others is so very important, as I’m sure we all have experienced during the various lockdowns since the COVID pandemic. Imagine if that was your world all year round, and this was your only chance to see people outside of your village.

As well, the taking in of the first crops is something that should be celebrated in any nature-based tradition. Whether you live in an urban setting or not, what happens to the harvest in or near where you live, or in your own country on a wider scale does affect you, even if you are in the heart of a downtown metropolis. If the wheat harvest is bad, you will find bread and other wheat-based products go up. Same for any crop, whether that is apples, onions, potatoes, carrots – you get the idea. Not only does this affect you financially, but it can also affect you physically. If you are not supporting organic and locally produced crops as much as is possible within your capability, then you are effectively saying that nature doesn’t matter, and how we get our food is more important than the overall effect on the environment itself. This sort of thinking has led to genetically modified food, the long-term consumption of which we will only begin to notice in the coming years. The vast industry of monoculture crops requires much more pesticides and fungicides than a diverse or organic crop, as permaculture has shown us time and again. There is strength in diversity, and great weakness in monocultures. This applies not only to agriculture, but to all culture.

Everything is connected. Everything is related. To think that you are separate from something is mere illusion. Just because you might not live in a rural setting, doesn’t mean that what happens there has no effect on your life. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and how we treat our environment all affects us every second of every day.

Let’s remember this when it comes to Lammas/Lughnasadh; let us remember the interconnectedness of all things, and the sacredness of all things. Let us remember how important this time was for our ancestors, and how important it is still, today, wherever we live. It’s not an abstract concept, especially if we follow a nature-based tradition. It is a real, living, breathing, contributing part of our world, and should be one of the most important festivals in the Wheel of the Year.

To find out more about Lammas/Lughnasadh, I have written about it and the other festivals celebrated in Druidry and much of Modern Paganism in my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.

The Inverse of the Summit

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White Peaks, Derbyshire, taken on a walking holiday

Most people who enjoy hiking know that getting to the top of a mountain can be difficult. But for those who are experienced, perhaps after about 40 years of climbing those mountains, we begin to understand that it is the descent that is actually the more challenging of the two. Sure, you become breathless as you make your way slowly up the mountainside, sweat on your brow and your legs muscles pumping.  But on the way down, you have to take special care, your balance comes into play, and one wrong move can leave you stranded on that mountainside awaiting rescue.

And it’s this analogy that I’ve come to understand as the integration of those rare moments of epiphany in our lives. Getting to the mountaintop can be the easy part; coming back home can be the more difficult. We got to the top, now we’re on our return journey, tired, but taking the memory and experience with us to internalise. Having the epiphany is easy – integrating it into every day is the more difficult part of the journey. It’s the inverse of the mountain’s peak, and once we’ve traversed this sometimes treacherous way, it’s then that we can find that lovely and level middle ground.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a small realisation or a grand epiphany that you’ve come to in your life; the really important thing is how to integrate it into your soul and your life. You can’t just have it and then forget about it – or, you could, but then what’s the point? The real point is to make it a part of your life, each and every day. To live the realisation, to make it a reality.

And it’s not easy. Our everyday lives can be so busy, and filled with a plethora of tasks and minutiae that can take precedence unless we are careful about how we manage our integration. It’s all good to go on a retreat, to meditate, to do pathworking or journeying work, even spellwork, but then it’s up to us to bring that into our lives as well, and not just let it rest “out there in the universe”. We have to make it manifest, we have to make time and integrate the work. We have to come down that mountain.

And it can seem dull and boring, all the repetitive tasks that we have to do each day, when we’d rather be receiving even more epiphanies. We have to do the dishes, clean the bathroom, cook our meals, teach our kids, feed the cats, mow the lawn, pay the bills, etc. We have to get on with the chores of the day.

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My little Kiri cat 🙂

But these elements, numerous as they are, form such a large part of our lives. So why shouldn’t we make them even more special, and give them more significance? Why can’t we internalise our hard work and let that inspiration flow out in everything that we do? It’s all a matter of perspective. On the summit, it’s easy to see all around you, to have that greater perspective. Scooping out the poop in the kitty litter box isn’t nearly as grand.

But that revelatory experience doesn’t have to fade with time. We can carry that in our souls, even when we’re running to the bin with a very stinky scoop of poop. For me, the act of service helps me to continue my revelatory experiences in everything that I do. It’s something that we’ve always taught at Druid College, and something which I’ve expanded even further in my studies and work with the Sisterhood of Avalon. That service, whether it’s working for your community or taking care of your stinky cats can be the thing that connects you to everything else. It is in those moments of interconnection that we realise that we are all a part of a greater tapestry of life, woven from many threads, stronger and even more beautiful when we support each other.

That larger perspective is carried in our hearts and minds, and into everything that we do, from the choices we make each and every day to the way we interact with people every single moment. And it’s not easy. Coming down the mountain there are loose rocks and stones that can trip us up or roll under our feet, causing us to lose our balance, wrench our knee, put our back out. But if we’re careful, if we’re mindful, we can hopefully get back to everyday life intact and in good condition to keep that momentum going. There are the pitfalls of losing our way, losing the daylight, losing the map or compass. But unless we’re really unlucky, most of us will make it back and into our nice, warm homes where we can integrate fully the experience. And it’s keeping that feeling in our hearts as we go about our daily tasks can be equally as challenging. That is the real inverse of the summit.

But once we have achieved that, then we find the level path that allows us a good vantage point, and is much easier to manage as well. We find that balance point in our heart and souls, and the way forward becomes more pleasant. So the next time you reach that mountaintop in your life, find a word that summarises the experience, something that you can recall when you are cleaning a clogged drain, dealing with a difficult neighbour, or sitting in a lonely silence. This is what you can use to make the vision real, to make the intangible, tangible. Manifest this in your life, and then all that work will truly be worth it.

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The valley where I grew up in Quebec, taken from the lovely and level trail of an old disused railway.

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New podcast is now up!

My Elements mini-series podcast now has its fourth installment. This mini-series is available for free on my YouTube channel. You can also listen to all the other podcasts, along with audiobooks, meditations and more with my Bandcamp subscription.