From the very first pages, Basic Witches by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman felt like a book written just for me, and that feeling remained throughout almost the entire book.
Goodreads synopsis: Capitalizing on the rising trend of hipster witchcraft, BASIC WITCHES is a lighthearted and empowering book of spells and lifestyle tips for feisty millennial women.
In Basic Witches, readers will discover how to tap into their inner sorceress and channel the dark arts for everything from cluttered apartments to dating disasters. Want to enhance your attractiveness? Pick the right power color of eyeshadow and project otherworldly glamour. Need to exorcise a toxic friendship? Say the right symbolic curse and banish it from your life. Need to boost your self-confidence? Whip up a tasty herbal “potion” to strengthen your inner resolve. Plus historical and pop culture sidebars that situate the new witchcraft trend within a broader context. With humor, heart, and a hip modern sensibility, journalists Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman dispense witchy wisdom for the curious, the cynical, and anyone who could use a magical boost to get through the day. This ain’t your grandma’s grimoire!
My rating: 4 stars.
I’ve never read a self-help book before, so I can’t say whether this book is typical for the genre (somehow, I expect not), but I was definitely pleasantly surprised. I loved this book the moment I saw the cover. I was able to read this because I received an e-ARC through Netgally, but I’m definitely getting myself a physical copy! It looks beautiful, inside and out. This book is my aesthetic.
Now, as I said, this book felt like it was written for me. I’ve always wanted to be a witch. At least after reading Harry Potter, and probably before. (I can’t be sure as I was very young when I first read Harry Potter – or rather, it was read to me.) I incorporated witchy clothes into my wardrobe – a pink and purple shirt with mushroom print; a coat that was several sizes too big so it looked like a cloak. I read witchy magazines – well, one magazine: W.I.T.C.H. I created a secret magical organisation to vanquish evil with my best friends. As a child, witchcraft was serious business!
I don’t really believe in magic any more the way I did then (and even then it was more like I was trying my best to fool myself, because I knew it wasn’t real, but I really, really wanted it to be). But this book made me realise I don’t need to want to be a witch. I already am one, and always have been. This book isn’t about teaching you to do magic, not in the way you usually think of it. I’ve found it hard to explain what this book is about – bringing out your inner witch? Perhaps it’s best if I just quote from the book:
Our witchcraft is a cultural ethos. Our witchcraft is about rebellion – not for rebellion’s sake, but with the purpose of living true to ourselves.
There is a whole introduction telling you exactly what and who this book is for, so if you’re unsure after reading this review, you should probably find the book at a bookstore and read the first pages.
The book is divided in several chapters covering various topics mostly related to self-care, interspersed with interesting information about historical witches and spells you can try at home. There’s even a guide to creating your own spells! These spells are rituals using symbolism to help you let go, clear your mind, focus on something, etc. I must admit I was a little sceptic about them, but there were a few that seemed interesting. I might try a few and review them here. These things are very personal and would probably work better for some than for others, but I do think they’re worth a try! As the authors say: “human brains are weird”.
I’ve kind of strayed away from what I was initially talking about: why this book felt like it was meant for me. Well, first of all, it’s inclusive. This was something I was initially wary about, as this is a book meant primarily for women, for feminists. I’m definitely a feminist, but I don’t feel like I am 100% a woman (I currently identify as a demigirl) and I was afraid this book might not be inclusive of people outside the gender binary. Luckily I had no need to be afraid.
You probably identify as a woman, but maybe you don’t – maybe you’re outside the gender binary, or maybe you’re a man who’s committed to justice for all. We are going to talk mainly about women in this book, because a lot of historical and cultural crap surrounding witches has been directed at women specifically. But we’re also going to talk a lot about how societal notions of masculine and feminine – who can be which, and what they’re worth – are total bullshit.
I was completely happy with this. It makes sense for a book about witches and witchcraft to be focused on women, and paragraphs like this one made me feel included. And this kept happening. Not just when it comes to gender – they include hijabs in a list of fashion items, the illustrations include witches of various skin colours and body types, and the chapter on sex is inclusive of people who don’t want any!
This last one, again, is important to me personally, because I’m asexual. The whole chapter wasn’t particularly interesting to me, but I still read it because 1) this was an ARC and I better read the whole book so I can review it properly, 2) I needed to know whether this was going to be ace-inclusive. Asexuality isn’t specifically mentioned, but neither is any other sexual orientation, or any romantic one for that matter. Gender neutral terms are used to describe partners, and the tips are aimed at what different people might want in a relationship, rather than their orientation. Because of this, there’s quite a lot of good stuff in there even for people who don’t want sex. (And if you’re really not interested, you can just skip the chapter.)
Making sexual choices for yourself, not to conform to or rebel against anyone else’s ideas, is what creates power. In turn, the beneficial white magic comes from acting on what you want, whether that’s freely accepting who you’re attracted to or finally admitting that you’re not at all interested in sex. Whatever the answer, you’re no less magic.
I think this book can be useful for a lot of people. It obviously won’t solve all your problems, but it can definitely be of comfort. I even saw a few things used in spells that I recognise from therapy (thinking about the worst case scenario, the best case scenario, and the most likely scenario for a situation you’re worrying about, for instance). That’s not to say this book can replace therapy – please go to therapy if you want/need it – but, as I said, it can be a comfort. I’m going to buy a physical copy not just because it looks beautiful, but also to put some notes and tabs and highlights in it, to pick and choose the bits I like, and might be able to use. This book also contained a lot of things I already did or already knew, but had never looked at in this way. That’s another thing I liked – it made me realise that the little things I do can be special, can be witchy, and that, really, I already am a witch.
Please let me know in the comments if you’d like to see me review some of the spells in this book! My idea was to do a series in which I try two or three, and create one of my own at the end.
The little infographic near the start of this post was made with the BookOut app, which I’ve been using recently to track my reading but mainly to save quotes and thoughts easily. I’ve found it quite useful when writing reviews. Would you like me to keep posting the infographics with my reviews?