Three books on my nightstand: Ivo Dominguez Jr, Mhara Starling, Vincent Higginbotham

This month I wanted to highlight the three books that I am currently reading. Yes, I am reading three books. Actually, I am reading more than that, but since this is a column about Queer Paganism, I’m only including those that were written by queer authors. Straight people get enough play, thank you very much.

First, let’s talk about Ivo Dominguez, Jr.’s The Four Elements of the Wise (2021, Weiser Books). This is nothing short of a treasure. This book explains in detail the model of the four magical elements of creation, its history, and gives deep insight into how the elements might be approached and worked with. Readers who are new to the Craft and occultism will find this an incredible boon to their studies. But don’t think that this is just for beginners. Seasoned practitioners will find much in these pages that will deepen and expand their understanding of this ubiquitous model. Anyone who thinks they are too advanced for elemental work obviously hasn’t read this book.

One of the concepts explored in this book that I found to be the most fascinating is the idea that the variants in mapping the elements to the cardinal directions can each describe a transformative progression of their energies from the perspective of various planes of existence. For example: a common map in Neo-Paganism associates air with east, fire with south, water with west, and earth with north, a model that is rooted in the “middleworld” and describes manifestation on the level of the psyche, with things beginning in air (thoughts and ideas) and through a progression into eventual form (earth). Another model might be to map the four elements in the underworld or overworld, with their directional associations shifting to reflect this change. This is explored in-depth and really offers a greater understanding of this holistic model.

Honestly, this alone is worth the price of the book, but there is so much more to be explored in these pages. I will likely have to come back and write a review of this book on its own, but for now just trust me and get it. You’ll be glad you did. I have been practicing the Craft for 37 years at the time of this writing and I learned things that I never knew before.

The next book on my nightstand is Welsh Witchcraft by Mhara Starling (2002, Llewelyn Worldwide). Readers might recognize the name from her incomparable (and informative!) videos on TikTok and YouTube where she explores the mythology and folklore of Welsh culture.

In this, her first book, she beautifully paints a picture of both Welsh culture and history, offering not only practical exercises and spells, but also a context that is often lacking in other works of Celtic Paganism. As someone who was born in Wales and speaks the language, she is positioned to pull back the layers of mythic obscurity and offer a glimpse of this beautiful and rich magical culture to those outside.

Lest one approach this cultural work with trepidation, Starling eases the reader by expressing that Welsh magic is not a closed practice, encouraging the reader to study and to learn, but also rightly pointing out that to be Celtic is more than simply ancestry or genetics. Celtic is a culture and if one wishes to work the magic of that culture, then one needs to ne prepared to learn the cultural nuances at play.

Included here are workings to connect with the land, gods and goddesses, faeries, as well as a Welsh herbal describing the magical potencies in certain native plants and their uses in magic. As a practitioner of an American form of the Craft that draws much inspiration from Welsh mythology and poetry, I am finding this book to offer some much-needed context to certain concepts and terms passed down in our tradition.

Even for those not practicing a form of Welsh or Welsh-inspired Craft, this book provides an excellent overview of some of the most fascinating and beautiful mythology and folklore that has found its way into the larger Craft, often without proper understanding. Welsh Witchcraft is a boon to Crafters everywhere.

Finally, the last book on my nightstand is How Witchcraft Saved My Life by Vincent Higginbotham (2021, Llewellyn Worldwide). This book is an intimately personal look at the author’s own journey, describing his experiences with child abuse, demonic visitation, homelessness, prostitution, drug abuse, attempted suicide, HIV, and even cancer. Throughout the narrative, he describes his encounters with Witches and others who helped to shape his worldview and his experiences with magic, opening the way for magical instruction.

One of the things that most struck me, besides the very personal and intimate window into his childhood of abuse, was the fact that despite all of the many hardships he endured, he has come out the other end more stable and powerful and with a deeper knowledge of himself. Where other might have succumbed to the abuse and despair, he found power and inspiration in the magical, which gave him the strength to persevere, and now offers his story in the hopes of inspiring others who might find themselves in similar circumstances.

While foundational magical topics are covered such as psychic work, tarot, and the Four Pillars of magic (aka the Witch’s Pyramid), he offers gems in the form of simple, heart-felt wisdom, such as the magic of practicing gratitude, and that of daring to believe in yourself. Newcomers to the Craft will find much to help inspire their practice, and seasoned practitioners will be given another perspective that will help to renew their relationships with our magical tools and concepts.

The tone is personal as well as brave, offering an unadulterated look at his life, taking responsibility for his actions along the way, and interjecting pieces of magic to prompt the reader to take control of their own lives, and work the magic of transformation for themselves. Spells and journal prompts appear throughout, placed strategically to highlight the overall narrative, but never feel forced or out of place. Throughout it all, the intention to help others shines clearly. This is a work of love and one that is likely to help others who might find themselves in dark places. This is the true magic: to show others a way out by examining what lies within.

I found myself shedding tears at times during this read, at first feeling the heartbreak of despair for a teenager I have never met, and then tears of joy at his eventual triumph at manifesting a life of health and happiness.

So there you have it. Three books about the Craft written by queer authors, each with a wildly different tone and focus, but each offering the reader a deeper understanding of what it means to live a magical life. And with this, my nightstand stack has gotten just a little bit shorter. Though I know that won’t last very long.

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