Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

We are fast approaching Yule, and most witches and pagans that I know will undoubtedly appreciate one type of gift: a book. For those seeking some focused on hands-on magic, I’ve recently combed through a couple books on this subject.

Late this summer I picked up two titles from publisher Moon Books, Pagan Portals: Candle Magic and Pagan Portals: Poppets and Magical Dolls, both by author Lucya Starza. Both provide introductions to their respective subject, which was perfect for my purpose. As a priestess novitiate of the Daughters of the Sacred Grail, I lead a monthly group study of practical magic. Several of the ladies in our local hearth are fairly new to hands-on magical practice, so I was looking for a couple books to serve as touchstones for the study.

These books fit the bill almost perfectly.

First, Starza’s tone was approachable and unpretentious – I felt as if, if I met her, I could sit down with tea and cookies and have a chat and not be uncomfortable. She is from the UK, so some of her spelling and an occasional reference might be different than what American readers are accustomed to. None of the women in the study group seemed to mind it.

The author finds everyday things or customs that are magical in nature as ways to start each book. She helps you see the magic you’ve already done with candles and dolls before delving further into the subject – I’ll never look at birthday candles or teddy bears the same.

Now, let’s take a peek at each book.

Candle Magic: A witch’s guide to spells and rituals

Candle magic is probably the first magic I was drawn to do, but most of my learning has been intuitive with a few tips from others along the way. This little volume (just over 100 pages) is a solid introduction that looks at the different types of candles, safety, and more.

The Daytime Wishing Spell worked like a charm!

Starza take a good look at using different colors for particular seasons, elements, and so forth, however, she encourages the reader to use his or her own intuition and feelings about the colors and, later, other additions like scent. As a group, we tried her suggestion for creating colored candles from plain candles using melted crayons. It was a fun exercise (and worked well as long as you kept the wax hot) and a nice way to encourage people to be resourceful with what they have at home. Adding oils, herbs, and other embellishments are sections that have more fun ideas for those who like something other than plain ol’ candles.

This first part concludes with a grimoire of spells to try out. Some are pretty simple, but you should not overlook the simple spells here. I tried two myself, and one of the simplest, the Daytime Wishing Spell, worked quicker than I’ve ever had a spell work! I wished that a publisher and an editor for two freelance projects I was working on would email me back. After performing the spell, I left home for several hours. That afternoon I returned home to success – they had BOTH emailed me back.

In the second part, Starza focuses on ritual basics and how to use candles in rituals and celebrations. She also discusses the historic and modern use of sacred and eternal flames, which I thought was an unusual and thoughtful addition. Rounding out the text are ways to use candles for meditation and divination, how to make candles, safety, and a brief history of candle making.

Poppets and Magical Dolls: Dolls for spell work, witchcraft, and seasonal celebrations

Most of us grew up seeing or hearing the stereotypical view of a voodoo doll used to harm people. It was six or seven years ago at a Gaea Goddess Gathering workshop when I learned that these dolls are more often used as a tool of healing.

Starza whisks away the stereotypes of magical dolls, like these in the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.

Starza educates against this stereotype too. Her first order of business is to explore the history of this type of sympathetic magic, also called image magic, to show that many cultures have used dolls for a variety of purposes. This volume focuses primarily on using dolls to affect healing, luck, and moods, and even as guardians.

One of my favorite parts of the book is where she explores the many different materials used to make the poppets. We so often are stuck in the idea of cloth dolls, but there is also clay, wax, natural materials, pipe cleaners, and even cookies. Yes, I said cookies. There are a couple witches I know that would be inclined to use modern craft clays.

The author does eventually address the elephant in the poppet room: using pins. She explains that doing so is focusing energy where the pin is inserted, but this can be used for many purposes including healing! She follows up by touching on ethics and cursing before heading into ways to enchant, maintain, and use your created poppet. Decommissioning the poppet is also covered  – something I’ve often seen left out of information about spell work.

Wrapping things up is a section I found fun and fascinating that covers dolls and spirits, seasonal dolls of the British Isles, and doll magic around the world. Like most Pagan Portals, this is a slim volume but it’s packed with good stuff.

Final Thoughts

As noted, these are short introductions that are great for beginners. They are friendly in tone and succinct and yet are creative and interesting to read. While some may not like their brevity, I rather like them and the Pagan Portals series overall because they are short – kind of like the first couple dates with a subject to find out if you like it or not. I’ve long thought the Pagan community needed a new series of books like this to be a more modern take on the old “Elements of” series. And when you want to go deeper on a subject, a good starting point is the bibliography of these volumes.

My only real complaint about either book is that they could benefit from a couple well-placed illustrations or photos showing how to make some things. I worked as a technical writer for 10 years and have learned the hard way that sometimes no matter how hard you try, people will not visualize what you are saying as you intend it. Sometimes a photo can clear up confusion better than a couple hundred more words. I haven’t noticed illustrations in any Pagan Portal so far (though I haven’t read them all), so perhaps this is the publisher’s call instead of the author’s.

The group study has finished Candle Magic and will start the Poppets book in January. So far, the texts have given a good foundation for people to work from, and even those of us who have been practicing for many years found some new gems.

What I also like is that Starza’s books work well when you want to weave in other related information and activities. For example, the Candle Magic book touches on a way to create witch bottles that includes candles. Years ago, I lead an activity night on witch bottles and spell bottles, so this inclusion gave me an opening to pull in that information to the new ladies. Likewise, we plan to end the Poppets study with our group’s matriarch leading an activity on mawkins, a type of magical doll she is familiar with.

So, if you or someone you know wants to dip toes into either of these subjects, I’d recommend checking out these titles from Moon Books. Here’s a couple places you can find them:

Candle Magic on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Poppets and Magical Dolls on Amazon and Barnes & Noble


– Thistle



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The Tarot Familiars deck, which was released last year, boasts beautiful and mystical artwork that speaks to the animal lovers. It has some other great features, however, it does fall short in two areas.

Three Major Arcana cards from the Tarot Familiars.

I’ve always loved decks that strongly feature animals – in fact, my very first deck was the The Druid Animal Oracle. Another one of my favorites, The Wildwood Tarot, utilizes bears, birds, deer, and other animals along with the people in the deck. Several other decks that I frequently read with include animals, so it was no shock that the Tarot Familiars by Lisa Parker would catch my eye while visiting a favorite New Age and Witchy store. I hesitated to buy it because this deck really does have a couple shortfalls, but when I pretty much saw my own cat in the seat of the Queen of Wands, I was sold.

Amazing for Many Reasons

First of all, most of the cards are beautiful and charming. The style is fairly realistic, but with a touch of magical fantasy. I understand Parker was first a wildlife artist and it shows. Instead of stylistic or simplified animals, we have beautiful and accurately drawn ones – though they have been given a polish of perfection that gives it a fantastic feel. The deck features a variety of animals, such as cats, owls, ravens, wolves, hares, deer, and horses.

Three beautiful key cards from the Tarot Familiars, including an interesting choice for The Lovers.

As already mentioned, I was hooked after seeing the Queen of Wands (shown in one of the Court and Pip card sets below) as it so closely resembled my cat Gabriel, who is the animal I consider to be my familiar, in her prime. If the image had shown one yellow eye and one blue, it would have been perfect. The first card I pulled when using the deck looked very much like my friend’s cat. It’s likely that most of us would know an animal that looks like one in the deck, which will only help people to connect with it.

Speaking of connection, being a deck about familiars should be popular among many readers I know. Most of us feel a strong connection to at least one animal, and have felt that animal was a part of our spiritual and magical journey. Even those who consider these creatures to be totems or power animals would probably enjoy it. There are some interesting images presented, such as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf as The Lovers, but I found some of these to be more intriguing than off putting.

The Tarot Familiars has a perfect size for handling.

There are also many little details and symbols in the cards. The road sign saying “Pendle” (a reference to the Pendle Hill witches of history), keys, triskeles, moons, meaningful plants, and more all are there for those with an eye for detail.

OK, a couple more things for the Pros list:

Sometimes less is more and that’s true here. This is much smaller deck than a lot of those coming out, but it’s a good thing. Even with my long hands, many decks are difficult to hold and shuffle. Not this one; it’s ideal. The cards were a bit slick when I shuffled, but I expect that to lessen as the deck is used more.

The last benefit I’m mentioning is that the cards are multilingual. I’ve seen a few decks like this, but most seem to just have one language and might have different editions for other languages. This one has English, Spanish, French, and German on each card – English is in the center as well as the upper left corner, but the other three corners use the other languages. It’s a little thing, but I enjoy seeing if I can remember Spanish well enough to guess the card’s Spanish name. The included booklet also explains the meanings in all four languages.

Falls Short of Perfection

Nothing is perfect, and this deck is no different. Though I have to say the biggest thing that irritated me about it was the Pip cards, or the number cards of the minor arcana. As some of you have guessed, the artist did not create individual artwork for these cards. Instead, we have well drawn swords, wands, pentacles, and cups that are repeated the number of times needed for the card. Below I’ve included a Court card and a Pip card from each suit.

The Court cards are stunning, but the Pip cards lack individuality.

I cannot express how disappointing this is to me. I fully realize that many Tarot readers know exactly what each card represents, regardless of the art. I am not one of these readers. I intuit much from the artwork and don’t ever buy a deck if I don’t connect with the art. This deck was a questionable decision for me because these cards are not given the attention that the Major Arcana and the Court and Ace cards were given. Personally, I hope a later edition corrects this issue – a lot of Tarot deck collectors consider this a lazy move and I suspect it will impact the sales and love given the deck.

For me, I’m considering removing the pip cards and using this more as an oracle deck. While some would bemoan this idea, it could actually work for me because I do take so much from the artwork and not the official meanings. It would still have 42 cards, which is plenty for an oracle.

The other thing that’s a bit lacking is the booklet. Again, experienced Tarot readers will be fine. However, newer readers may wish there was a bit more than the couple sentences that each card is given.

In Summary

If you are an experienced Tarot fan and love the art and animal connection, go get this deck! If you’re like me who connects to each card’s artwork, it’s something to carefully consider when you think of the number of other decks out there. The cards are gorgeous but there are tradeoffs.

More Decks Soon!

If you enjoy animal-based decks, keep an eye out here for future reviews. On the same trip when I bought this deck, my boyfriend picked up this spring’s release, The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit deck. He’s agreed to share, so I might review that one too. The upcoming The Spirit Animal Oracle by College Baron Reid is one I’m considering when it comes out in October.

Blessings and happy divining!


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