Book of the Month - June 2020: "Basic Witches" - Thoughts and Reflections
I got this book as a gift for my brother's girlfriend but found out that she already had a copy. I wasn't sure it would be relevant to me, since I don't believe in "witchcraft" but since it was too late to return it, I decided to give it a go.
I thought "Basic Witches", by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman, was going be a guide on how to do spells and read tarot etc, which I do not believe in at all. It became clear as soon as I started reading that this book is nothing like what I expected. Within the first page, the authors validate gender outside the binary, acknowledge that societal notions of masculine and feminine is a bunch of rubbish, and encourages you to dismantle the cultural conditioning that trains women, in particular, to be small and passive.
This book is all about how to harness every day, inner "magic" to get in touch with myself, empower myself, overcome society, do the things I feel I need to do, and do what I enjoy without fear. 16 pages in and I already felt empowered. I had a feeling I was going to really enjoy it.
Throughout this review, I will link what I have read and learned, to the key moments or habits that resonated with me as I read. I highly encourage this way of reading, as I found myself actively smiling at points as I read.
About the Book
Written by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman, with gorgeous illustrations by Camille Chew, Basic Witches is split into seven different chapters:
- Self-Initiation: An Introduction into Basic Witchery
- Glamours: The Power to Change How You Look
- Healing: The Power to Care for Yourself
- Summoning: The Power to Care for Others
- Enchantment: The Power to Make Choices about Love and Sex
- Banishment: The Power to Avoid What Brings You Down
- Divination: The Power to Decide Your Destiny
Sprinkled throughout these chapters are delightful little sections called "Witch History". These sections offer insightful lessons into the role of the witch, healer and wise-woman, throughout history and how they have been adapted to fit a role within modern society.
The Power of a Good Talisman
Basic Witches encourages its reader to adopt a talisman. A talisman is any object that you can wear or carry around with you, that encourages and reminds you of feelings that you wish to foster. You can have different talismans for different feelings, arguably, but it is important to have a talisman that is always present and reminds you of the strength and power, and any other positive trait, that you wish to radiate.
It was only reading through this chapter that I realised that I have had a talisman all along, and appropriately I bought it from a woman who defined herself as a witch. My talisman is a ring that is wrought in the shape of an old Celtic symbol. The symbol is a form of the Triquetra, which symbolises the 3 phases of both the moon's and a woman's life: the maiden, the mother and the crone. Each stage teaches something new to the learner and brings with it new skills and challenges. I wear it to remind myself that I am a powerful woman, who chooses at which point in her journey she is. It reminds me of the qualities I have, and the skills I wish to develop.
If anyone weeps about you ruining your one beauty, remind them that your beauty is too vast to be contained in a mere hundred thousand strands of collagen. Besides, beauty isn't something you have; it's something you do.— This part on Glamours gave me the confidence to ignore people who said I would look bad if I did 'X'
The "smellomancy" section of this book encourages the reader to associate certain smells with certain moods or behaviours. This way you can condition your brain and almost trick yourself. If you get used to doing a certain action with a certain smell, you can use the smell to make yourself more likely to complete the action in the future.
This was another thing that I realised I already do! I associate lavender with being sleepy, as I always get bath and bed products scented with it. After a while, I got my own lavender essential oil and made a spray for my pillows. Now I can use the smell to make myself feel sleepy as part of my nighttime routine. I also have a plug-in that smells of fresh laundry that I turn on whenever I do housework. I have not reached the point yet where the smell makes me feel more productive, but I know that I can get there. I can also introduce new scents for new types of productivity, for example, mint when I want to do work.
I have always loved cooking and everything I turn my hand to in the kitchen always comes out well. Secretly, I think I have always considered myself to be a bit of a kitchen witch, so this section on how to use food to foster positivity and to heal, was definitely appealing to me.
Unless I am trying something new, I can fall into a habit of treating everyday cooking and eating like a mechanical process and not appreciating it. This section taught me new ways of taking the everyday mundane and using it as an experience. Almost like mindfulness.
This section also reminded me that I can use the connections that I have between food and memories, to change the way I feel about something and reframe it. For example, baking a pie always reminds me of my parents. So if I miss home, I can plan to make a pie and think of the memories I have with them while I do it. I can think of my dad teaching me how to make a corned beef pie. I can think of me making a pie for my mum when I last went to visit her. While I eat the pie I can take a picture and send it to them to make a connection. When I am finished and I go to clean the plate, I can rise away and negative feelings I had leaving only the positive memories left behind.
As someone who loves an exercise regime, like cycling on my recumbent exercise bike, but abhors home workouts this section made me smile. When trying to research different at-home exercises, I get overwhelmed with technical terms and all these rules. This fun little section strips away that "this burns X amount of calories and focuses on these muscle groups" confusion, gives the exercise fun names and allows you to remember that the only person you do exercise for is you and that you should do it in a way that makes you feel good, comfortable and happy.
This section was a genuine and down-to-earth reminder that different people can mean different things at different times, to you and each other. And that's ok, sometimes you need fast friends sometimes you don't need anyone, you have to cultivate the relationships you can mutually benefit from.
I have always believed that what you put out in the world you get back. So this section really reinforced to me when you have a one-sided relationship; don't throw good energy after bad, as it saps you of your strength. Instead, you should surround yourself with people who lift each other up. Basic Witches calls this principle "Shine Theory". When you lift up others, you attract people who want to lift you up, and you all end up making each other shine brighter.
All of this personal reflection reminded me of a very personal experience I had. A few of us were thrust together in a very stressful and very similar situation and made friends with each other to get by. Slowly, it became apparent that there was someone in this group that did not want others to shine, this person wanted to be only one that shone and wanted us around purely to make them look good, by dragging us down as if we were bad. People offered various bits of advice from "call them out on it" to "report them and have them removed" to "give them back what they give to you". I felt stuck, until as someone was leaving a room once (talking about something completely different) they shouted back "Don't throw good energy after bad!" So I decided that this is exactly what I should do, without getting invested. Instead, I remained as positive as possible, any personal attack was met with non-acknowledgement. Any time they tried to dirty my reputation, I let my actions speak for themselves, and other people saw that. I lifted up everyone else in the group and balanced out the negative atmosphere from this one person. I found in time that they would come to me with stuff, I would go to them, and we formed genuine bonds that I cherished. We grew together and celebrated our successes together. Eventually, we matured past the negative influence and this person was left behind on their own. What they put into the world they got back, and what we put into the world we got back.
Basic Witches includes a wholesome collaborative ritual to deepen friendship, and in a way working together to balance out deliberate negativity when it happened was our own little ritual. So I will leave this section on two quotes from this section that resonated with me:
"offer all you reasonably can and no more"
"[relationships are] balance between vulnerability and boundaries".
Naming Your Demons
This section assigned names and personalities to everyday negative thinking styles. Being able to name them and picture them as silly little creatures helps remove their power and helps to rationalise the feelings you are having. If you also share the names of the demons with your friends (coven), then it becomes easier to communicate. Instead of trying to describe a myriad of confusing feelings, you can just say which demon is visiting you today.
No is a Complete Sentence
As someone who struggles to say no out of fear of negative repercussions, this section resonated with me strongly. It reframed saying no as actually saying yes to something different. Saying "no" to going out means that you are saying "yes" to staying in and doing something you wanted. This allowed me to completely reframe the way I approach saying no. Now I can see that saying "no" to a lift home, means that I am saying "yes" to getting work done. I can see this becoming a powerful tool for myself to use in the future.
They can put you on trial but you don't have to show up to court.— from the section on why you shouldn't fear the negative judgement of others
I reference Future Me often, as in, "Future Me can deal with that tomorrow!" Basic Witches introduces the concept of actually talking to my future self, ask her what she wants you to do now, and what she will be OK with doing later. I never thought of approaching tasks in this way, I usually just make a list and do things off it in bursts. The idea of conversing with Future Me allows me to respect my own time better and I feel as though this is a technique I could really benefit from.
Tap into Your Power
Basic Witches suggests that when you are faced with a new and scary situation to insert an element of something you are good at. By doing that you can gain some control over the situation and make it feel less intimidating.
Once again, at this point, I was able to closely relate this to something that I was already doing! When I started my new job I was so intimidated and worried that no one would like me. So I decided to bake for my colleagues. I would make brownies, cakes, muffins, flapjacks and all sorts of delicious treats that I knew I always make well and would be delicious. Armed with my baking, I felt more powerful! It really did feel as though I was using my cakes to cast a spell over people and make breaking the ice easier, and it worked!
It's safe to say that I adore this book from head to toe! I went in not expecting to like it at all and have been pleasantly surprised in every way. There are probably a hundred life lessons and tips in Basic Witches to "give your life some hex appeal". I can guarantee that, while specific parts spoke to me as though they were written with me in mind, there are many other parts that will resonate with any reader just the same.
After finishing this book I am proud to say that I am a witch, and I am reclaiming the power that I was born with! It was surprising how much of the stuff that I already do can be considered everyday magic, and I will now only refer to it as working my magic and casting spells! Basic witches is a must-have and a delightful read that made me smile and feel empowered in equal measures! This book has earned itself a place on my shelf and I will reach for it whenever I need a reminder of my magic. Thank you Jaya Saxena, Jess Zimmerman and Camille Chew.
Buy this amazing book for yourself
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