Witchy Weekends: Samhain

Happy Hallowe’en, everyone! This is my last Witchy Weekends post until next October. I hope you have enjoyed the smorgasbord this year.

I’m finishing out the series today with an acknowledgement of Samhain, the pagan New Year. You can learn about this high holiday here. In a nutshell, it’s the day when the Wheel of the Year turns, the veil between the worlds (the living and the dead) is the thinnest, and it’s an important time for remembering the life and death cycles of our world and everyone and everything in it. In other words, it has many of the same qualities as other major world religions and cultures. One thing I’ve learned from my research is that the associations of evil times and practices with this holiday is about as far from the actual truth as you can get.

You can look online for images of Samhain altars and find a virtual cornucopia of beautiful pictures. Some of them resemble gardens, some of them resemble goth art installations, and some of them resemble Dia de Los Muertos shrines. They are all personal and special and endearing, each in its own way. I’d include some of them here but don’t want to accidentally impinge on anyone’s copyight.

I’ve been considering doing something different with my Hallowe’en decorations next year and might be borrowing some of these traditional aesthetics myself. Time will tell.

Now I must get ready to take my kids trick-or-treating. Have a wonderful end of the holiday!

 

Witchy Weekends: Review of Deborah Blake’s New Book

I encountered this book when Alethea Kontis recommended it on her #FriendlyFridays series, and since I’m fascinated by spellbooks as cultural artifacts, I checked it out. While it was published earlier this year, it took several weeks to arrive after the presumed release date due to the supply chain woes currently hampering the book industry (as well as most other industries right now). But it was definitely worth the wait; this is a fun one!

The Eclectic Witch’s Book of Shadows by Deborah Blake is part grimoire, part journal, part recipe collection, and part friendly encyclopedia. It is both practical and entertaining, with a wealth of competent knowledge that any practitioner from New Age to hobbyist to pagan can find real value in. It also contains ample space for the reader to add plenty of their own knowledge and experience to make this a truly personal book of shadows.

This cover art gives you a good idea of what the interior illustrations look like.

The sections included in this book include herbs, stones, candles, magical recipes, divination, gods and goddesses, invocations and quarter calls, spells, rituals, recipes, and correspondences. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet radiates respectful kindness of the faith practices (and to some extent psychology) of a healthy swath of the population.

This book contains charming and colorful illustrations by Mickie Mueller, the kind that give off a peaceful and cheerful vibe. This is not the sort of book conspicuous Goths like Azrael Abyss and Circe Nightshade (from SNL’s Goth Talk, ca. 1997-2000) would gravitate toward, but a useful and fun book that could be appreciated by a young or new practitioner and an experienced one and everyone in between — as well as those who, like me, find this genre of literature interesting for its peek into another worldview.

Witchy Weekends: Katherine Howe

This weekend let’s chat about some of the witchy work of Katherine Howe. Her debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, was so much fun to read. It contained a lot of the things I love to read about: smart characters, historical mystery, family drama, academic drama, a lush setting, a touch of romance, and an earnest belief in magic. What could be better, especially for this time of year?

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane came out in 2009, debuting at #2 on The New York Times Bestseller List.

Since then, Howe has gone on to write several more books to significant acclaim. (You should definitely check them out.) Her accomplished pedigree in academia — she holds degrees in philosophy, art history, and American and New England studies — shows in the subtle but unmistakable authority of her historical fiction.

And finally, at long last, a sequel to Howe’s debut is on our radar. The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs will hit the shelves in the summer of 2019. I can’t wait!

image borrowed from Katherine Howe’s social media

Witchy Weekends: The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

Welcome to October and the return of Witchy Weekends! I hope the weather in your part of the world is cooperating. It’s a little warm still here for my taste, but hopefully that will change in the not-too-distant future.

This weekend I’m highlighting a book series that I cannot believe I waited so long to read. Deborah HarknessAll Souls Trilogy consists of A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. A fourth book, Time’s Convert, focuses on supporting characters from the original trilogy. It just came out last month, and I can’t wait to read it!

Harkness’ writing style is leisurely without being slow; you can tell she must have enjoyed crafting this story. Theme and detail and character development and plot are layered together in such a way that these books are both literary and commercially viable page-turners. They’re longish books but never really felt that way when I was devouring them with glee. I especially appreciated her increasing use of humor as the books progressed, and as the characters grew more comfortable in their intimacy and more human in their growth.

The primary protagonist is the witch Diana Bishop, a professor and historian, who encounters a mystifying, centuries-old alchemical manuscript and a mystifying, centuries-old vampire at the same time, while she’s on a research sabbatical at Oxford. If you have an interest in the paranormal, or in history, or in science — the vampire in question is a very accomplished geneticist — you will probably enjoy Harkness’ work. The three books also form one contiguous story (in the same way that The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King all form The Lord of the Rings). The books take us through different countries and different time periods without ever giving us whiplash. The intended audience for the subject matter of these books, I believe, is adults: even though she might be fascinated in the story, I’m not handing them off to my voraciously reading thirteen-year-old any time soon.

These are the kind of books I want to lose myself in not just as a reader, but in some fantastical existence, to be a character in them.

I can’t say enough good things about Harkness’ work, and I’m not alone: I just learned there’s an entire conference devoted just to the fandom of this series, and a TV series is being made of it, too. (It’s currently in production, yay!)

I hope you’ll give this immersive story a try — and give yourself some patience as it starts. The first book has a slow-burn kind of build, but once you’re in, you just might be gloriously consumed. You’re welcome.

Featured Poet: Marie Marshall

Tonight I’m featuring a poem by Scotland-based poet Marie Marshall, who kindly wrote a handful of poems specifically for this series. I really enjoy her work and might post more than one of her poems at some point this month, but for tonight, I’ll share this gem, “Veronica Franco on trial for witchcraft.” You can follow her blog to see more of her poetry on a regular basis, and I recommend that you do.

 

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NO BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS. BEGIN: MARIE MARSHALL IS AN AUTHOR OF WHOM NOTHING IS KNOWN. NOW LET US READ THE POEMS. REGARDS. M.

 

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Veronica Franco on trial for witchcraft