ATLANTA — Almost four decades after the Wicked Witch of the West plagued Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the green-skinned, bushy-browed one lost her broom on, of all places, Sesame Street. Actress Margaret Hamilton reprised her famous role in an episode of the children’s TV series that aired on Feb. 10, 1976, writes Heather Greene in her new book Bell, Book and Camera: a Critical History of Witches in American Film and Television (McFarland, April 2018, 234 p). “With the exception of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, the inhabitants of Sesame Street are visibly frightened of Hamilton’s character,” Greene writes. The Wicked Witch also scared the hades out of young viewers, just as she had done for decades since the release of Oz in 1939.
TWH — “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” the mischievous sprite Puck says to Oberon the faerie king in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare was no fool when it came to incorporating the magical and astrological worldviews of his time into his immortal works. That’s the premise of the fascinating, exhaustive (but not exhausting) book Shakespeare and the Stars: the Hidden Astrological Keys to Understanding the World’s Greatest Playwright (Ibis Press, 547 p.) by professional astrologer and English literature teacher Priscilla Costello. Costello weaves not just astrology but extensively-researched aspects of the Elizabethan worldview, Renaissance magic, ancient history, mythology, modern psychology, and more into her examination of Shakespeare’s works. While she discusses the bard’s plays as a whole, Costello delves deep into six specific works, including three of his most “magical” plays: The Tempest (with its story of the exiled nobleman Prospero, who takes up the magical arts and frees the air spirit Ariel), Macbeth (with its “double, double, toil and trouble” witches who prophesy Macbeth’s doom), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (with its tale of a love quadrangle fostered by a quarrel between Oberon and his faerie queen Titania, and heightened by the errant spell-casting antics of Puck).
TWH — If Emily Dickinson, Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf, and Agatha Christie were Witches, they kept that side of their lives out of history’s spotlight, yet they and 26 other female writers are “initiated” into a coven in the new book Literary Witches: a Celebration of Magical Women Writers by poet-writer Taisia Kitaiskaia and illustrator Katy Horan (Seal Press, October 2017, 128 p.). Literary Witches is a charming (witchy pun intended) grimoire that weaves biography, recommended readings, Kitaiskaia’s prose poems and Horan’s moody paintings into a heady brew of brief, off-kilter but always evocative portraits of these writers. Refreshingly pan-cultural, Kitaiskaia romps across space, time, history, ethnicities and genres to anoint the famous (the aforementioned writers as well as Toni Morrison, Sappho, Mary Shelley, and others), plus lesser-known wordsmiths (Iranian poet Farugh Farrokhzad, Laguna Pueblo novelist Leslie Marmon Silko, and more). The foreword by Pam Grossman is not only engaging and informative itself, it also is essential to this book. Frankly, Literary Witches wouldn’t make much sense and would struggle to bridge women writers and witchery without Grossman’s framing device.
The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice by John Beckett. Published by Llewellyn Publications (336 pages). Walking a Pagan path will always have its challenges and whatever stage of the path we are on, a guide who give us pause for reflection on key aspects of our beliefs and practices is most welcome. This is why John Beckett’s new book The Path of Paganism, to be released in May, is so important. Beckett is a Druid who was raised in what he describes as a fundamentalist Christian family, finding his way to Paganism when he was an adult. Beckett is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and an officer of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS). With a foreword by the renowned Kristoffer Hughes, head of the Anglesey Druid Order, Beckett’s book is made up of four parts: Building a Foundation, Putting it Into Practice, Intermediate Practice, Living at the Edge.
The Tao of Craft: Fu Talismans and Casting Sigils in the Eastern Esoteric Tradition by Benebell Wen. Published by North Atlantic Books (600 pages)
The Tao of Craft, by Benebell Wen (also author of Holistic Tarot), is an English-language practitioner’s guide to Chinese 符 (fú). 符 is usually translated as “talisman,” but Wen chooses to use the word “sigil,” which more specifically captures the use of written texts and glyphs and symbols, the ritual charging of such designs, and their relationship to both spirit-work and directly achieving desired practical results. Wen also chooses to use the term “craft” rather than “magic.” The lines between “magic” and “religion” have always been blurry, and while she acknowledges that the vast web of traditions comprising Daoism is often religious, Wen argues that the metaphysical principles underlying the Fú techniques themselves can work from a variety of religious frameworks.