Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Book Review: Elves, Witches, and Gods by Cat Heath

witch, heathen, pagan, neopagan, book review, witchcraft, witchy, occult, witch book, pagan book

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I am back this week with another book review! I'm actually going to have two more coming along this month as that is how far behind I am on reading and reviewing the books I have been sent. But I figured these are some of my most sought-after posts, so why the heck not. Later in the month, I will introduce you to this year's series as well as a seed blessing ritual and my Ostara altar, so keep an eye out for those posts as well.

Elves, Witches, and Gods: Spinning old Heathen Magic in the Modern Day by Cat Heath stuck out to me when looking through upcoming releases from Llewellyn and after reading the description I knew I needed to get my hands on an early copy. Boy am I glad I did! Heathenry is a term used to describe Germanic and Scandinavian magical practices, which resonates with me deeply as both my mother and father can trace their ancestral roots not only back to Celtic Ireland and Scotland, but Sweden and Germany as well. In fact, my father was surprised to learn he has "Viking" blood in him. We knew my mother's family hailed from Sweden but were completely taken aback my father's family had similar roots. Needless to say, I feel a deep connection with all things Scandinavian, and heathenry is no exception.

Heath does an amazing job introducing heathenry using historical texts, folktales, and her own experiences to drive the techniques and rituals outlined in the book. This is by far one of the best occult books I have read in a very long time for a couple of reasons. First, I absolutely love historical texts, myths, folklore, and the like, and draw heavily upon them when developing my own practice. I still do. The fact the Heath does the same and explains the texts in a methodical and analytical way while expanding the texts to explain how they apply to modern heathenry and occult practices did not fall on deaf ears. Most of the book felt like I was conversing with a similar mind to my own and while her writing style is different than mine, I could feel and see myself in her words. This type of writing isn't for everything, but if you enjoy my posts explaining folklore, myths, and historical texts, then you will definitely enjoy Heath's writing.

Second, Heath cites everything within the text with citations annotated at the bottom of pages. This is my favorite way to read citations so I don't have to go flipping back and forth to find the exact source referenced in the material. This allows me to quickly judge the validity of the source, from which she uses far more primary sources than secondary, and therefore the validity of the information. It also very quickly allows me to see what is speculation and personal experience versus what is backed up by history. I am a huge fan of this type of citation and put me at ease while reading.

Finally, I love how candid Heath is throughout the book. She speaks from decades of experience and isn't afraid to admit when she has messed up. I envy her practice and her ability to travel the world. Maybe one day I will be able to do the same. I love reading the personal experiences of others in the craft as they are often more insightful than the picture they paint elsewhere. It's all well and good to write and post manicured rituals and spells, its another to read the raw details on how such a ritual or spell originally came about and the trials and tribulations it took to get to today.

As a hedgewitch, I found the sections on "The Pathway Between" and "Herbal Charms" to be two of my favorite sections of the entire book. The Pathway Between covers liminality and spirit communication. However, Heath builds up to these practices, laying the foundation in Part One: Cosmology before giving you practical magic to practice on your own.

At the end of the book, Heath offers a list of recommended resources, many of which are now on my list to read later. These sources are broken up into sections, including both historical and modern, which I appreciate. There is also a short pronunciation guide to help you navigate some of the difficult Nordic, Icelandic, and Germanic words, although I would have liked to see a pronunciation guide next to each word when we first encounter them. I was having to Google the correct pronunciation of each word so I could read smoothly. I have a learning disability that affects my ability to read new words, so without the pronunciation guide next to each word, I kept getting tripped up and couldn't progress until after I had heard the word aloud.

Apart from wishing for a pronunciation guide next to new words, I did not like Heath's constant backtracking. She summarized what she had just talked about often throughout the book, which may be helpful for those who are easily distracted, but I found it rather annoying. I think it's mostly because I didn't like how she summarized, not that she did. This is really me issue and not a book issue, but one I felt the need to mention all the same. Some sections were also difficult to get through, not because the text wasn't fascinating, but because it was so dense. This may turn off some readers, but it is well worth it in the end.

Overall, I loved this book so much I purchased a hard copy the moment I finished it. I strongly encourage every hedgewitch out there to pick up this book. I promise you it will be worth it. You can order your copy of Elves, Witches, and Gods: Spinning Old Heathen Magic in the Modern Day by Cat Heath now!

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  1. This book piqued my interest the moment I caught wind of it a few months ago and your review has only spurred me towards hopefully picking up a copy of my own all the more.

    Especially since almost the entirety of my ancestry (confirmed via 23andMe) hails from the UK, Central and Northern Europe (as well as Russia), and I too am drawn powerfully to the traditions and beliefs of these lands, which factor heavily into my own spiritual journey.

    Thank you immensely for another fantastic book review post. My eyes always light up when I see one in my feed from you.

    Autumn Zenith 🧡 Witchcrafted Life

    1. You will LOVE this book! I cannot recommend it enough. I keep returning to it too, that's how great it is. I need to order a physical copy to mark up and sticky note the crap out of.


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