by Silver RavenWolf
Llewellyn Publications, 2002, $12.95 US
Review by Erin
Many of us have “rules” that we cling to as we go through life. “Don’t take any wooden Nickels”, “don’t eat any yellow snow” and so on, things to live by and things to make life somewhat easier. I myself have several such rules. Yet, as I learned in this case, there are exceptions to every rule.
My general rule has been “Never recommend anything by Silver RavenWolf to anyone.” And in this case I’m wrong. This book, though it looks as if it will sensationalize Halloween and Samhain for the masses, is worthy of an honored place on my shelf.
Silver has done an exceptional job of researching this topic, and she has treated it with sensitivity and care. She has found references from many sources to give an ACCURATE history of Halloween, even using information from Isaac Bonewits’ site to help her out, and never once succumbed to commercialism.
Excuse me while I gush for a while.
She starts at the beginning of the story, Paleolithic times, and brings the story of the holiday celebrated around October 31 (on the Gregorian calendar) forward, logically and succinctly, interjecting good humor and fact at every turn. She never indulges in speculation as to what happened, but cites texts for each and every statement she makes. Her list of footnotes is a long one for the first few chapters where the history lessons are concerned.
But that’s not all. In latter chapters she goes into the spells. Com’ on, you knew they were coming. However, these are not the normal selection of charms and doggerel that are normally called “spells” these are actual kitchen witch spells and charms. Each and every one of them I can see my family and I using at some point in the future.
Not only that, but when she calls for an herb, she gives a parenthetical statement for what that herb is used for. Here’s an example of one of her spells, so you can see what I’m talking about.
Easy Enchanted Punch
Keep your party safe and sober by using this great nonalcoholic punch recipe.
8 cups cranberry juice (health and love)
6 cups apple cider (love)
6 cinnamon sticks (psychic powers)
6 orange slices (luck)
1 liter ginger ale (success)
1 tray of ice cubes
Pour cranberry juice and apple cider into a large bowl. Break the cinnamon sticks in half. Put one cinnamon stick and one piece of orange in each ice cube holder. Fill an ice cube tray with some of the cranberry-apple mixture. Freeze. Refrigerate remaining punch mixture in bowl. Before serving, add ginger ale and ice cubes.
Now, while this does sound really simplistic and like it won’t work, having studied some more on kitchen witchery, I can only say that it looks like it would work.
The actual spells will work, if I’m any judge. I have read things like the “Porch Protection Turnips” and the “Solitary Harvest Moon Ritual” are both very good and I may borrow some ideas for my own practice at some point.
Then she spends an entire chapter on death customs and death rituals. There are rites for the deceased, spells to “say goodbye” to a loved one, rites to help those who recently lost a loved one get on with their life, and ceremonies to honor and remember the dead. There is even a funeral rite from Lady Janette Copeland, Archdruid in the Divine Circle of the Sacred Grove Order of Druids.
She talks extensively on divination at this time of the year. She spends time on the FUThARK runes, and shows one how to construct your own set of “yes/no” stones, and has a divination game that can be performed with those same stones. She has mirror scrying, fire scrying, and many other means of divination. She discusses in one chapter where all the symbols of Halloween come from, and why they are reviled and/or scary. The only one that she does not have in this list is the Mummy, mostly because they are Egyptian and not Northern European.
The only subject about this time period of the year not discussed in-depth is how to make a costume from scratch for your child.
While I don’t have many qualms, I do have one or two. She does not have a list for further reading, and in one place she does reference her own work in a list of books (I counted 6 SRW references out of a list of 10). While I can say that I understand that she does not want to rewrite what she has already written about, I could wish she had a few dozen more non-RavenWolf books referenced for balance sake.
The section on divination, by necessity, is short and brief. She can’t cover everything on one style of divination in this chapter, she says she can’t, and she does not even try. She gives you enough to whet your interest, and leaves you with the references from the Bibliography to continue with.
I have read this book very carefully, and I am giving it 4 1/2 stars out of 5. It’s one reference I will recommend if someone asks me for references on Halloween this season. I plan on keeping it on my reference shelf and using it when the season comes around again.
VERY good job Silver.