Review: Byron Ballard’s Staubs & Ditchwater

This is a review which originally appeared on my About Paganism site – the content has recently gone away (because book reviews generally don’t garner a ton of page views) but since I’ve been delving deeper into Appalachian folk magic recently, this is a good time to re-share it.

StaubsCover

Book Review:

Staubs and Ditchwater: A Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo, by Byron Ballard.

I first met Byron Ballard in March 2012, when I visited Asheville, North Carolina, to cover the story of the Buncombe County School District and their religious materials policy. She’s one of those people who makes everyone feel comfy and welcomed, with her earth-mother vibe and say-what-you-mean-mean-what-you-say personality. When I heard she was writing a book about mountain magic, I was thrilled. As someone whose ancestry is deeply rooted in the hills of western Kentucky, I’ve always been fascinated by the concepts of magic as found in Appalachia, borrowing much of its roots from the folk magic of the British Isles and other far flung places.

Staubs and Ditchwater: A Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo is a perfect primer for those practitioners who are interested in looking at magic from a practical and traditional standpoint. The book is divided into six chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of mountain magic, and accompanied by brilliant essays detailing Ballard’s own experiences, both as a practitioner of magic and as an Appalachian woman.

She makes the important distinction, early on, that the witches in her own family never saw witchcraft as a religion – it was a practice, and a skill set to be cherished.

Chapter One delves into the tools of the trade – tools which include imagination, intuition, and the ability to read and interpret the signs that the natural world is sending you. Chapter Two takes things a step further and looks at the material tools that some folks like to use – a basket of herbs, upcycled Mason jars, and poppets, to name a few. Here’s where the chapter really grabbed me, though – the mention of working with Allies.

By Allies, Ballard is referring to assistance from both the spirit world and the mundane. Whether it’s your ancestors, the spirits of the land, or other people in your community who practice folk magic, it’s good to have some backup on hand. I’ve always thought of this as a sort of magical wolfpack – if you’ve got allies, as Ballard points out, you’re never really alone. She points out the importance of teamwork: You are there to share what you know, to compare notes, to learn in a way that is humble and respectful… Don’t be a jerk.

In Chapter Three, the notion of stockpiling supplies is addressed. If you have the land and the wherewithal, grow your own herbs, and store grease and oils and other bits of useful material. Learn how to use them in a way that is practical and reasonable, and you can’t go wrong. In the absence of the opportunity to grow your own, Ballard encourages you to barter or buy from other practitioners – after all, if you need a particular candle, and the only place that has it is the local Spanish marketa where the brujas shop, then hie thee to the marketa. This chapter also includes a valuable compendium of different types of water and its magical uses. Did you know that stump water holds the magical essence of the tree in which it steeped? Me either!

Chapter Four explores divination and omen-reading – and points out the difference between the two. An omen, specifically, is something natural that you’ve observed – a trio of crows sitting in your tree, perhaps, or a swarm of insects landing on your window. Divination, on the other hand, is the art of looking at the future to see what’s around the corner – and there are a number of different methods. Ballard reminds us that if you’re going to read omens, it’s crucial that you learn about the natural world where you live. Because snakes in the driveway in April might be perfectly normal in your neck of the woods, but a very odd occurrence indeed three states away.

Ballard shares some of her own home-grown recipes and goodies in Chapter Five – be sure to read this part, because she takes time to explain the symbolism behind the methods. In other words, not just “do this,” but “if you do this, here’s WHY.” Good stuff indeed.

Chapter Six wraps things all up, in Ballard’s folksy, come-sit-by-the-fire-and-have-some-tea way of storytelling. Staubs and Ditchwater: A Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo is more than just a book on magic – it’s a conversation with a wise old friend, like chatting with someone you’ve known all your life. Well worth reading, and more importantly, worth reading again.

Visit Byron online at My Village Witch.

Review: Mrs. B’s Guide to Household Witchery

This article originally appeared on my About.com site, but since book reviews tend to show an underwhelming long-term performance there, I’m going to be gradually migrating some of them over here instead. I thought I’d kick things off with one of my favorite reviews, of a book by one of my favorite people, Kris Bradley, also known as Mrs. B.

You really need Mrs. B's Guide to Household Witchery
You really need Mrs. B’s Guide to Household Witchery

If you were familiar with Kris’ blog, Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom, that she ran up until 2013, you know that she spent a lot of time encouraging readers to find the magical in the mundane, and to look for the spiritual in everyday things around the house. By bringing magic and the divine into your home, you can find a brand new way to look at your practice – and that, in turn, translates into so much potential for witchery around the house!

Mrs. B launches right in, and the first chapter of Mrs B’s Guide to Household Witchery focuses on making the mundane magical, by taking a quick room-by-room tour of your home, starting with your very own front door. Ever think about hanging a protection bag over your stoop? How about sprinkling salt across the windowsills? The living room, laundry room, and especially the kitchen can all be magical places, and Kris offers tips on how to specialize the magic in each of these areas. Bonus area? Adult bedrooms can be a place of all kinds of sexy magical shenanigans!

The second chapter addresses the four classical elements of earth, air, fire and water, and how they can be applied in a domestic setting. Balance in the home is important, and it’s useful to figure out what sort of energy a room has in it already, in addition to what sort of energy you’d like to have there. By using household items such as houseplants and modeling clay, windchimes and ceiling fans, lava lamps and hot plates, or coffee pots and fish tanks, you can incorporate the elements and their energies into any room.

One of my favorite chapters, by far, is the one on Household Guardian Spirits. While I realize that not every practicing Pagan incorporates household guardians, for those of us who do, this section comes in very handy. There’s a review of some of the many domestic spirits found in a variety of cultures, including many you’ve probably never heard of.

The next section focuses on magical recipes – and anyone who’s hung out over on About Paganism for any length of time knows I’m a big fan of mixing up some kitchen magic! With a combination of herbal blends, incense and oil mixes, and even a house wash, there’ s a little bit of something for every domestic goddess (or god) in this part of the book. The witches’ herbal is useful as well, as a basic primer for those who are just beginning to delve into the use of herbal magic.

Finally, Kris wraps things up with some simple sabbat celebrations for those of us who are just plain busy. Got just a few minutes to spare? Celebrate five minutes alone, or a small group ritual for SamhainYule or the other Pagan holidays.

Mrs B’s Guide to Household Witchery is a very back-to-basics approach to modern domestic witchcraft. Kris shows that you can drop all the trappings, forget about the fancy commercially-bought tools and gizmos you have, and just do as our ancestors once did – use what’s handy and use it wisely. Take advantage of the natural magical energies of your home, and celebrate the space you’re living in.

Things I’d like to see in a follow up book? More household craft projects, and more in-depth ideas about incorporating magic into day-to-day practices like cooking, cleaning, and organizing the home. On the whole, Mrs B’s Guide to Household Witchery is a great book for those who are just beginning to explore their domestic witchery options, and a good refresher for those of us who have been doing it for a while and needed a bit of a reminder on how to turn the mundane into magic. I’ll give it 9.5 broomsticks out of ten!

Buy From Amazon

 

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. 

Review: The Witches’ Almanac Coloring Book

Color All the Things!
Color All the Things!

I love to color, and as much as I hate to sound like that annoying hipster barista at your favorite coffee shop, I was actually coloring a lot before it became a trend. It’s therapeutic and keeps me from throwing rocks at people or eating my feelings.

One of the best things about coloring becoming popular, though, is that now, instead of being stuck with Dora the Explorer and Ninja Turtles, there are a floppity-million coloring books out there for grownups. No matter what your interest – I have Outlander and Game of Thrones – there’s something for you to color in.

Which is why, gentle reader, when the nice folks at Red Wheel Weiser sent me their newest foray into the world of coloring, I may have squee’d just a little bit. The Witches Almanac Coloring Book is FUN, y’all!

It’s divided into seven sections – Woodcuts, Constellations,

So Pretty!
So Pretty!

the Planets, Creatures, Egyptian, Americas (unfortunately short), and Tarot. It’s a neat collection of artwork to color in, and I’m seriously enjoying it.

The best part: I really love the Tarot section. The images are from the Rider Waite Smith deck that we’re all so familiar with, and includes all of the Major Arcana. If you’ve ever felt like the traditional RWS colors didn’t resonate with you, now’s your chance to change that. Make the sky purple any time you like.

These pages WANT you to color them!
These pages WANT you to color them!

Also, I loved seeing the woodcut artwork, many of which were featured in days gone by as illustrations for anti-witch treatises – you know, the ones where we’re all Satan’s whores? A lot of the woodcuts will look familiar to regular readers of the Witches Almanac publications; they’ve been used by Weiser regularly, and for the most part, these are fantastic.

Just Hangin' Around Coloring
Just Hangin’ Around Coloring

My one complaint? A few of the images – not many, but a few – appear so stretched that they appear pixelated and blurred, which makes them less than appealing to color. For the most part, though, the lines are nice and crisp. The book is a good quality – especially for the $12.00 price tag – and there’s a nice mix of different styles in there. In all, the good definitely outweighs the not-as-good. I’d give it eight broomsticks out of ten!

 

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

 

In Which I Hang Out At Media Medusa

I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Media Medusa, and specifically, Nancy Basile, but if you’re not following the site, you should be. All kinds of cool pop culture things lurk over at MM, from TV to movies to books, so go check it out!

Nancy Basile at Media Medusa is awesome and you should read her stuff.
Nancy Basile at Media Medusa is awesome and you should read her stuff.

I first met Nancy when we were co-conspirators at About.com, and we discovered pretty quickly that we had a lot in common – the same weird sense of humor, an unabashed love for Outlander‘s Jamie Fraser, and no lie, we both have the Imperial March from Star Wars as our ringtones. It’s like we’re Geek Twinsies.

Anyway, I got to do a little virtual hangout with Nancy for an interview over at MM, and you should really go read it, because she asked some great questions about the creative process (spoiler: my process is possibly non-existent), inspiration, and why I even write in the first place. Go read it now! Author Patti Wigington Casts a Spell

The Good Witch’s Daily Spellbook

OMG YOU GUYS.

I have some super exciting news! I’ve partnered with Sterling Publishing to create The Good Witch’s Daily Spellbook! This collection of 366 spells – one for each day of the year – is designed in a way that’s useful for both beginners and advanced practitioners. No fancy hard-to-find tools, no hours-long rituals, just magic on the fly when you need it – as it should be!

Like a boss!

I’m super excited about this project, and my editor, Chris Barsanti, is going to be an absolute dream to work with. TGWDSB will be out in December 2016, marketed in Barnes & Noble stores (Sterling is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BN), and available in a snazzy gift-sized hardcover for just $7.98. I’ll let everyone know as things progress, like cover artwork and pre-order options, but I’m so jazzed about this that I can barely type coherent sentences right now. Stay tuned for more, and join me for one heck of a magical ride!

The Intro to Tarot Study Guide is Here!

A few weeks ago I announced that About.com had advised us that they would shortly be doing away with the e-courses. While it was disappointing to hear, there are certainly solid reasons for the decision on their part – however, a LOT of readers have given me feedback in the past about how much they loved the e-courses. Two in particular, the Intro to Paganism & Wicca and Intro to Tarot courses, were extremely popular. When I posted this initially, I was able to announce that I’d revamped the Intro to Paganism & Wicca e-class into a 13-step self study guide, which is getting really great responses.

StopBuying2Today, I’m pleased to say that the Intro to Tarot Study Guide is now available! It’s a six-step self-study program that you can use at your own pace – all of the content of the original e-course is included, as well as new and updated information. Don’t worry, there are no pop quizzes, grades, or weird bell curves involved – work through it at your own pace, whether it takes you six days or six weeks or even six months!

It’s a chance for you to follow one of my favorite suggestions: read, study, learn, and grow – and I hope you find it as beneficial as other readers found the older-style e-classes!

Intro to Paganism Study Guide

So last week About.com advised us that they would shortly be doing away with the e-courses. There were several reasons for this – all of which are valid and legitimate – but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of readers really loved my site’s e-classes. In particular, the Intro to Tarot and the Wicca & Paganism 101 e-classes were huge hits with many readers, and I always got a ton of great feedback from people who had subscribed.

With limited notice as to the end of the e-courses, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do about them – while I know there are a number of other programs I can use to set up a mailer system for a free e-class, the fact is that I have a lot of irons in the fire right now, and don’t have the time to learn a new system right this minute. Then I realized that I had already done the legwork for the e-classes – putting together links to articles in a coherent and organized collection. It occurred to me that rather than e-mailed newsletter-type lessons, these would actually transfer really well into a self-study lesson plans, in which readers can work through at their own pace.

So I’ve decided to turn those two e-classes into self-study guides. The first one is already up and loaded here: Introduction to Paganism – A 13-Step Study Guide.

All the study guides for everyone!

Bookmark it, print it, throw spaghetti at it, whatever you want to do – it’s all there for your convenience, and it’s all of the same content that was previously included in the Wicca 101 e-class. Don’t worry, there’s no tests, grading, or weird bell curves involved – it’s just a chance for you to follow one of my favorite suggestions: read, study, learn, and grow.

I should get the Introduction to Tarot study guide complete by the end of the month (funny story, I actually had it all loaded up and my computer shut itself off, erasing four hours worth of work, so I have to re-do it), and will announce it when it’s up and ready to roll. In the meantime, go forth and learn new things!

Whole30: I Lost Some Stuff

So yesterday was the final day of my #whole30 experiment, and I’m happy to report that I feel amazing. Sure, there are a few things that could use improvement – I’m still experiencing the weird fibro Charley horses in my legs, and the arthritis in my hips still makes me hate mornings – but overall, I feel great.

Eat all the things.
Eat all the things.

I’m sleeping through the night – I’m talking about six hours, uninterrupted – which is something I haven’t done in a long time. My skin, which has always looked healthy, looks even more clear. I’m not tired throughout the day, and I feel well rested and have a ton of energy.

Also, I lost some things. A lot of things:

  • A pants size.
  • A bra size – although I’m happy that the cups stayed the same, the band measurement is down 2″.
  • Six inches off my hips.
  • Two inches off my waist.
  • Thirteen pounds.

And that’s after just thirty days with no sugar, no dairy, and no grains. I eat meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, fruit, and tree nuts, and I legitimately cannot remember the last time I felt this good. And the thing is, doing Whole30 is easy if you take the time to be mindful about what you’re actually putting in your mouth.

I know a lot of people get to the end of it and celebrate by eating a bag of candy and a bottle of wine, but I just can’t break my streak at this point, because I feel so damn great.

So what’s a girl to do when her Whole30 is this successful?

I’m making it a #Whole60.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Salem, Hartford, and Pendle Hill

I first became interested in the Salem witch trials long before I was interested in witchcraft itself. I remember reading about them as a child, and being fascinated by the tales of these girls my age who had been possessed, taken by spirits in the night in league with the Devil himself. Accusations flew about like gray specters in the dark nights of colonial Massachusetts, fingers pointing, and no one was safe.

As I got older, and became more interested in history itself – not just of Salem and its trials, but of the entire country and in particular, the pre-Revolutionary world – I read more and learned more. Among the many things I learned, first and foremost, was that none of the people tried for witchcraft in Salem were actually practicing witchcraft. Nine-year-old me had been certain they were, but adult me discovered this wasn’t the case at all.

But does she weigh as much as a duck?

What a lot of people are completely unaware of, though, and something I didn’t know about until I stumbled across it completely by accident, is that there was another trial in New England, three decades before Salem happened. In 1662, there was a situation very similar to the 1692 events, albeit on a smaller scale. The town of Hartford, Connecticut, saw a spring panic, the death of a child, and accusations pitting neighbor vs. neighbor, which I’ve written about in more detail here. Unlike Salem, however, only four people died in the Hartford trials.

One thing that’s on my bucket list of things to do some day is perhaps teach a class on witchcraft trials in the British Empire, and that would include Salem and Hartford. Now, this is the part where I usually get an indignant message from someone reminding me that Massachusetts and Connecticut are in ‘Murica, damn it! Well, sure… they are NOW. But in the 17th century, when these trials took place, America didn’t exist yet. Massachusetts and Connecticut were governed by British law, because they were (waaaait for it…) British colonies. Pardon me while I mic drop a bit.

Anyway, we all know about Salem and only a few of us have apparently even heard of Hartford, but Britain itself certainly has its share of witchcraft trials. One of the most notorious took place in Lancashire in 1612, in the Pendle Hill area, and ten people were eventually found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

One of the absolute most important takeaways when we look at trials like Salem, Hartford, and Pendle Hill, is that it is EXTREMELY unlikely that anyone who was convicted and hanged was actually practicing witchcraft. Every year – oddly, in the spring – there seems to be a resurgence of memes within the Pagan internet world honoring the “dead witches of Salem” or something along those lines. Honor them if you want, but they weren’t witches. In fact, many of them were very pious and devout Christians. We in the Pagan community can hardly hold up Salem as an example of anti-Pagan religious persecution – it was a total disaster, for sure, but had nothing to do with Actual Pagans™.

I have an awesome professor this semester who regularly points out that it’s not so much that history repeats itself, but that people themselves never change. Given the same circumstances, human behavior will tend towards repetition, whether we’re looking at ancient Rome, Asia, the British isles, or colonial Massachusetts. So read up, folks – read up on the conditions that can surround mass hysteria and panic, observe how people responded at the time, and then consider whether or not it can happen again.

For additional stuff to read, which includes references to academic work that’s invaluable, check out a couple of my articles here: