The Witching Year: A Memoir of Earnest Fumbling Through Modern Witchcraft

Simon Element. Oct. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9781668002988. $27.99. MEMOIR
Helmuth (How To Suffer Outside) revisits a mid-pandemic year spent delving into witchcraft. She cites Margot Adler’s 1979 Drawing Down the Moon as catalyzing her contemporary interest in this subject. Wicca, an offshoot of witchcraft, emerged in the middle of the 20th century, and its tenets and Dionysian undertones were loosely adopted by the counterculture of the 1960s. Helmuth’s account of witchcraft and Wicca is wry; she makes it clear that the politics of modern witchcraft are akin to the ethos of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. There are green witchery, kitchen witchery, divination (including tarot and palm reading), and approaches that incorporate spirituality. Practitioners often incorporate elements from the Mexican brujeria tradition, Indigenous peoples’ shamanism, Afro-Haitian voodoo, Celtic paganism, and more, which leads to Helmuth’s conscientious acknowledgement of the pitfalls of cultural appropriation. The author’s experiences demonstrate that people commonly approach witchcraft seeking self-actualization, rather than nefarious or “baneful” magic. This memoir joins other recent narratives concerning witchcraft, including Amanda Yates Garcia’s Initiated, Alex Mar’s Witches of America, and Mona Chollet’s In Defense of Witches.
VERDICT While this book doesn’t come to any grand conclusions, Helmuth is a sportive, streetwise, and ultimately respectful guide to all things witchy. Ideal for the numerous readers interested in this topic.
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