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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Book Review: Backyard Witchcraft by Cecilia Lattari

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While Georgia doesn't get particularly cold winters, we do get a lot of rain during the winter months and rain means more time to read while snuggled up on the couch with my cats. Lately, we have gotten a lot of rain which means I have had more time than usual to read. I most recently finished Backyard Witchcraft: The Complete Guide for the Green Witch, the Kitchen Witch, and the Hedge Witch by Cecilia Lattari which is a very brief introduction to the differences between green, kitchen, and hedge witches. When I say brief, I mean it. This book is 160 pages, but many of those pages are filled with stunning illustrations by Betti Greco. Honestly, the illustrations kept me reading because while much of the information was accurate, it was either too simple or not detailed enough. Backyard Witchcraft presents itself as an introductory guide but often fails to offer enough support for new witches to be successful. Before I get into what I didn't like, however, let's talk about what I did enjoy.


Backyard Witchcraft begins by defining the differences between a green, kitchen, and hedge witch. These types of witchcraft are often confused, especially in modern literature, as many of their practices and beliefs overlap. As a hedge witch (or hedgewitch) myself, I find conflating these terms frustrating because, while similar, they are not the same. Lattari does an excellent job discussing the similarities and differences between these different types of witches, even discussing hedge riding as the defining feature of the hedge witch. I will say that the descriptions seemed somewhat fantastical and more metaphorical than actual reality. As much as I would love to live in the countryside, walking the hedgerows, that isn't possible for most people, especially if you live in the United States. Not fitting neatly into these descriptions does not make you any less a green, kitchen, or hedge witch and there is so much variety in our community that no two people are going to practice the same.

Right smack in the middle of this introduction is a note about poisonous plants. While I am all for learning about some plant folklore, its inclusion in the first chapter seemed out of place and disjointed from the rest of the book. Lattari picks up this discussion later in the book in Chapter 5, so I am unsure why an aside was made in the introduction in the first place. It frustrated me as a reader, and will likely frustrate others. The introduction to poisonous plants is very basic and if you plan on using poisonous plants in your practice, I highly encourage you to look elsewhere for reliable information. Lattari strongly advises against the use of poisonous plants, which I agree with if you are not educated on their proper use and dosage, but then offers dosage information. This contradiction left me feeling uneasy because the information given is extremely brief and not enough to protect the reader from harm.

The book then continues to discuss the tools of each witch and how to create a magical space. Honestly, the tool lists read more like fantasy or what people think a witch would use than what we actually use. The items were oddly specific, especially for a hedge witch, which left me confused. It reminded me more of the artwork I see from whimsical witches than reality. Again, this is fine, but if you are new to witchcraft, you should know that many of these tools are not, in fact, used nor required. Within this section, Lattari mentions the use of smudge sticks and encourages readers to use palo santo, both of which are closed practices. While Lattari does advise against using white sage, which is also a closed practice, she continues to use the term smudge and smudging multiple times throughout the book. Smudging is not the same as smoke cleansing and conflating the two terms is a harmful whitewashing of a beautiful indigenous ceremony. Despite these issues, Lattari offers some great spell and ritual ideas with excellent breakdowns as to why certain items are used in an organic way. This is a great way to learn the correspondences of different items used in spells and ritual work without having to memorize a bunch of correspondence lists, which I always hate. I break down information in a similar manner on my blog and it's an approach I use in my classroom as well. Lattari does, however, assume the reader has some experience with witchcraft and casting spells, as many of the spells say things like "Once you have established contact with whoever lives in your sacred space" or "find a way to inaugurate it" without offering insight, suggestions, or help as to how to accomplish these steps.

The last several chapters take a plant-centered approach to magic, discussing the different elements, gardening, and the Wheel of the Year. I am a sucker for plant folklore and enjoyed these chapters immensely, even though they were short. Lattari discusses the elements in terms of the plants associated with them, offering folklore, correspondences, medicinal uses, and even cooking recipes for each. The variety of information given encompasses all possible uses of the plants, allowing green, kitchen, and hedge witches to find something that speaks to them. There is also excellent information on connecting with plant spirits, planting by month and moon, and basics on maintaining a garden. The medicinal information is decent, but some of the uses are still being researched. I would use this information as a springboard to other, more reliable, herbal books. Be sure to cross-reference common and scientific names to prevent any confusion. Lattari calls calendula marigold on several occasions, which is a completely separate plant in most parts of the world.

The book ends with a "What type of witch are you" quiz and 10 magical stories of herbs and witches. The order of these last two chapters felt very out of place/order to me. The quiz should have been in the introduction prior to the discussion on the different witches or left out completely. The answer choices obviously leaned one way over the others, making it easy to get the witch type you wanted. It's hard to include quizzes in books and this one felt forced. The final chapter on plants, however, was interesting and a great way to finish out the book. It's obvious Lattari has done her research.

Overall, this book was just okay, which was disappointing. It would certainly make for a beautiful addition to your bookshelf as it's colorful and beautifully illustrated, but information-wise...not so much. There are much better, more informative books on the market. As another reviewer said, this book seems more like a children's book than an adult introduction to witchcraft. This is a book I would give to a young teenager over a seasoned practitioner. Backyard Witchcraft: The Complete Guide for the Green Witch, the Kitchen Witch, and the Hedge Witch by Cecilia Lattari is available now.




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