Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Book Review: The Wildwood Way by Cliff Seruntine

shamanism, hedgecraft, spirit work, shaman, shamanic, witchcraft, pagan, neopagan, occult, book review, witchy, witch, witchy book

Recently I have been in contact with a new publisher, Crossed Crow Books, who are re-releasing some titles no longer in print including the book in today's review, The Wildwood Way: Spiritual Growth in the Heart of Nature by Cliff Seruntine. As you may already know, I love to read. Books are a wonderful escape as well as one of the most significant modes of transmitting and preserving information. Knowing that several titles are being given new life is wonderful news and an act I support wholeheartedly.

In his book, The Wildwood Way, Seruntine recounts how his life in the wilderness and spirituality intersect to form a shamanic practice rooted in environmentalism, sustainability, and folklore. The book is divided into four parts, one for each season, with each chapter focusing on a month. The chapters follow the same basic structure: personal story, wildlife, enchanted forest, wood witchery, and woods lore. It can be tempting and even easy to skip over the introductory stories to find the practical and magical advice at the end of each chapter, but within these recollections of Seruntine's experiences are lessons to be learned. He recounts profound spiritual experiences, from which we can glean a better understanding of the magic that surrounds us. I always enjoy reading about people's experiences, so I ate these stories up and was always awestruck (and a little jealous) of the life he and his family has been able to lead in the wilderness, far from prying eyes and industrialization.

After the stories, Seruntine dives into the science behind the phenomena mentioned in the stories in the "wildlife" sections. This includes explaining fairy rings, black bears, beavers, bunchberries, and even fireflies as will-o'-wisps. As a scientist and environmental science teacher, I couldn't get enough of these sections. Seruntine is well educated on the topics he discusses and does an amazing job conveying the information in a palpable way. He even weaves magic and mystery into these sections, helping the reader see the connection between magic, folklore, and witchcraft, which is something I strive to do here on my blog as well. You will walk away from these sections with a well-rounded understanding of the natural world and the interconnectedness of living and non-living things in an ecosystem.

From here, Seruntine moves into the more fantastical world found in the forest-- forest folklore and wood witchery. In these sections Seruntine recounts folklore from many traditions, from Celtic to Native American, citing his sources of these stories throughout. This segues into practical magical advice that can be integrated into your practice, especially if you are a hedgewitch like myself. Because Seruntine's practice is shamanic, the advice, lessons, and practical magic offered throughout the book are directly applicable to hedgecraft. He includes journeying techniques, methods for reaching an altered state of consciousness, using incense as a spirit ladder, how to find natural power objects, and how to connect with spirits and develop meaningful relationships with them. The wood witchery sections are definitely for more advanced practitioners, and they provide little to no background information and techniques, assuming the witch reading has already mastered these topics (think grounding, centering, spell casting, etc). I was pleasantly surprised how much information I was able to take away from the pages of this book and know it will be one I come back to often for the folklore and wood witchery alone. In fact, my favorite quote from the book is within these sections: "I've never met a spirit more dangerous than a living person." As a hedgewitch who works with many different spirits, this couldn't be more true. I have never once been afraid or felt truly threatened by any of the spirits I have encountered. It is the living I fear above all else. If an author is painting spirits out to be extremely dangerous, I am always cautious of what they have to say because more often than not, spirit workers will tell you that such fear is unwarranted. That isn't to say you shouldn't exercise caution, but when respect is given, respect is received.

Finally, Seruntine rounds out each chapter with practical woodsman advice and techniques including how to use a compass, forage for food, and pitch a tent. These are practical skills anyone venturing into the wilderness should have, even if you don't plan on staying long or wandering from the path. Its better to be overprepared than under!

Overall, this book is a fantastic, educational read I believe should be on every hedgewitch's shelf, but there is some information to look out for and use a critical eye to assess. First, the introduction features two slurs: the first about the Inuit/Yupik peoples and the second about the Romani people. I know that part of this is due to when the book was originally written, but with this republish, this should have been something that was caught by a second editing team and changed. Second, Seruntine uses the Wiccan Reed to admonish GMOs and makes some comments about organic versus conventional farming that aren't entirely true. For example, Seruntine mentions that only conventional farms are responsible for water pollution. Large-scale organic farms use pesticides and chemicals that also pollute waterways and are extremely dangerous. Just because of the poison came from nature doesn't mean it's any less harmful than a poison made in the lab. Mercury, lead, and arsenic are naturally occurring; that doesn't mean you should eat them. Finally, Seruntine does discuss hunting and animal deaths, and there are some pictures of this as well, so if you are sensitive to this sort of information or imagery, this may not be the best book for you. I don't like reading about animal deaths, so there were sections I glossed over.

Despite the issues mentioned above, The Wildwood Way: Spiritual Growth in the Heart of Nature by Cliff Seruntine is an informative, must-have for any witch, especially those who practice hedgecraft like me. I know it is a book you will come back to again and again. The Wildwood Way: Spiritual Growth in the Heart of Nature by Cliff Seruntine is available for pre-order now through Crossed Crow Books, with shipping expected Fall 2022.

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