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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Book Review: New World Witchery by Cory Thomas Hutcheson

folklore, witchcraft, witch, occult, hedgewitch, magick, magic, ritual, spell, witchery

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.

The pile of books on my desk is slowly shrinking as I pump out more book reviews. I promise I have more I want to talk about than books, but honestly, books have kind of been the only thing on my mind lately. Reading is one of those things I do to escape; that, and playing World of Warcraft which I have been doing a lot of lately. But I digress. Yesterday afternoon I finished New World Witchery: A Trove of North American Folk Magic by Cory Thomas Hutcheson. When I read the title for a potential review, I knew immediately this was a book I needed to read and one my readers would appreciate as well. I was not wrong.

There were so many amazing things in this book that I am not even sure where to start. First, Hutcheson takes a stance to use feminine pronouns throughout the book when referring to witches, his reasoning being women are often underrepresented in literature. He goes on to explain that men are also witches, and by using the pronouns she/her he is not neglecting this fact. I appreciated this. Representation matters! Furthermore, he takes a stance against cultural appropriation, stating that while he is sharing information from a vast number of different practices and cultures, that does not mean they are necessarily yours to take. I said "Yes, yes, yes!!!" while reading this section of the book and my boyfriend was like, "You're clearly giving that one a good review!" and he's right. It isn't about being "woke" or a "sheep" or "PC" to recognize bias and cultural appropriation when we see it; it's the right thing to do because cultural appropriation hurts other cultures. Later, Hutcheson encourages readers not to use the word "smudge" and to find cultural alternatives to white sage and Palo Santo due to their cultural roots and the environmental damage being done to mass market these products. He sticks to his guns throughout the book, being sure to reiterate his points often.

The book is divided up into thirteen rites, because, witchery! Within each rite are a number of chapters discussing different practices, folklore, historical documents, and lessons pertaining to that rite all within North America, mostly the United States, but some from Canada and Mexico. He covers everything from defining "witch" using folklore to help support his definition, to spell casting, divination, familiars, shapeshifting, and witch flight. Obviously, my favorite sections were on witch flight, familiars, shapeshifting, and spirits, all of which came with some amazing folktales from all over North America and fantastic lessons at the end. In some cases, he compares North American tales to those found in Europe, showing how they changed once immigrants moved to the colonies. Every chapter includes amazing footnotes with additional explanations and suggested readings at the very end. I walked away with a huge list of books I need to eventually check out to learn more. With the suggested readings he explains what he liked about the books and why he is suggesting them. His insight helped me decide if a book should be placed on my list of books to read immediately or if it was something I could get around to eventually. I appreciate his insight. Each chapter also includes "The Work" and "Dirt Beneath the Nails." "The Work" is about things you should be working on generally speaking, while "Dirt Beneath the Nails" is active lessons Hutcheson encourages you to do. These active lessons are almost always a spell or ritual, to help you get practicing right away. My favorite rituals were the ritual to meet the Devil,  the ritual to meet the Man in Black, and the ritual to build a shapeshifting mask and use it. These are three rituals I have stored away from later use and I will be making my own mask very, very soon. Don't be afraid though. Hutcheson provides ways to protect yourself, break spells, and remove vows should you change your mind. Furthermore, the Devil referred to here is more like the Witch Father, if you believe in him.

Hutcheson covers the Spiritualist movement in the United States which I ate up like candy. In college, I wrote a lengthy paper about how Spiritualism inspired Charles Dickens and shows up in his writing. There is a reason I have a cat named Charles Dickens. Haha! Needless to say, the history he covers here and the sources he used were fascinating. He also takes a pro-talking board stance which I greatly appreciated. Prior to the film The Exorcist, talking boards or spirit boards were commonly used without any negative reports. For some reason, people let that movie completely change how they perceived spirit work, and now we have a large number of witches that have convinced themselves spirit boards open portals and are evil. Hint, hint, they are not in any way shape or form. You've tricked yourself into believing Christian propaganda. 

Finally, Hutcheson promotes localized witchcraft, encouraging the reader to use herbs, crystals, and other magical ingredients found close to home. He mentioned contacting your local spirits, developing a relationship with plants near your home, and keeping your local environment clean. Several of the "The Work" sections encourage the reader to research local folklore and keep a journal of what you find. I adore this message, and it's one I encourage often here on my blog.

In all honesty, I have nothing negative to say about this book. Nothing. I took detailed notes while reading, and nothing I wrote down is remotely negative. That should tell you something about this book. New World Witchery: A Trove of North American Folk Magic by Cory Thomas Hutcheson is available now. I loved this book so much I am purchasing a physical copy to return to later. This will be one I use time and time again and one I cannot help but highly recommend. 



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8 comments :

  1. Hi Willow,

    Thanks for this amazing review!

    I'm just diving deeper into the roots of rituals and the differences between Europe and (mainly North) America. This is a super interesting topic, not only from a witchy perspective, but also in regards of history in general.
    I'm from Germany and a lot of witchcraft literature over here is influenced by authors from the other side of the pond. However, they in turn are often influenced by British Traditional Wicca or traditions that immigrants from all kind of European countries brought to the US.

    I'm a big fan of learning about the magical philosophy and rites of other cultures - to understand the concepts and techniques, to broaden my horizon and to self-reflect on my own practice.
    But I totally agree to that point of using local herbs, plants and stones and adapting to what is specific to your home region! While it might sound nice in theory to use exactly this or that crystal for a specific case because of its color or energy, it - in my humble opinion - totally contradicts values such as respect towards nature or other cultures to ship such items around the globe.

    This book will definitely make it on my list!


    Cheers,
    Anne

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    1. I know you will likely enjoy this book as much as I did. It was super refreshing to move away from Wiccan-inspired witchcraft to look at it from a more historical point of view. Hutcheson does a fantastic job introducing and explaining the folklore in North America while providing the reader with places to find more information. He is definitively an expert and I love it!

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  2. I was on the fence about purchasing this book. You have convinced me that it is worth the read.

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  3. Well this sounds absolutely fantastic as is being added to my 'must-read' list. Question for you: do audio books ever cross your path? I have a new job with a somewhat long commute, and would love some recommendations in this area.

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    1. I'm not really into audio books, but I did see one of the books I am about to start reading for a review is available on audio book for review through the publisher. Several occult books are finally making it to audio book form so I'm sure you can find something. If you are looking for a podcast, however, I love Folklore. Witchy podcasts are good, but I'm more into the history of culture, you know?

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  4. So it turns out New World Witchery has an audio version, so I started listening this morning on my drive to work. Really good so far!

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  5. What a glowing, awesome review. The nanosecond this book first crossed my path, it went on to my reading wishlist and the second I saw you had reviewed it, I likewise couldn't click through fast enough. Knowing that it not only finds favour with you, but that the author was highly mindful and respective in his approach to discussing the inner workings/traditions of various cultures and belief systems only makes me want to pick up a copy of this book all the more (if and when I do, chances are a book review post of my own will follow as well).

    Thank you for this fantastic post, my dear friend. Many heartfelt blessings for the month of May coming your way!

    Autumn Zenith 🧡 Witchcrafted Life

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