This may or may not become a regular feature here as I work my way through actually reading the books I’ve accumulated on the Craft/paganism/religion/theology/myth/etc.
Mrs. B’s Guide to Household Witchery: Everyday Magic, Spells, and Recipes by Kris Bradley (creator of Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom).
I think I picked this book up shortly after it was first published, in 2012. It’s been sitting around on my TBR list since, and I finally decided to actually, you know, read it.
The specific reason I picked up this book to read was because I was looking to re-inspire myself in witchcraft. I have been feeling so…decidedly unwitchy of late and I was tired of it. Watching a million episodes of Charmed and spending too much time in witch-tumblr has made me want to get back in the game, so I read Bradley’s book.
First things first: it served its purpose. Reading this book made me feel like witchcraft was accessible again. That is a huge pro to Bradley’s writing, actually — she makes it clear that yes, you can do this stuff even if life is drowning you, and she gives specific ideas on how to make your mundane life more magical. So, right up my alley.
The book is divided into 6 parts with 3 appendices, a bibliography, and an index. Part 1 is Making the Mundane Magical Room by Room — in this chapter Bradley talks about the different rooms in the house, their associations, and steps you can take to make each room sacred (including doors/thresholds, the laundry room, and children’s bedrooms). She also provides spell ideas for rooms, like a witch bottle for protection for the front door, or a kitchen cabinet abundance jar. One thing I like is how she points out possible magical uses for seemingly mundane objects — hairbrushes can help “detangle” you from things, for example, or using stain stick to banish things, or her ideas for junk drawer or scrabble tile divination. This first chapter was probably my favourite, if only because she gave me new ways to look at things I’d previously never considered in a magical light.
Part 2 is Air, Earth, Water, and Fire: Elements for the Domestic Witch. This chapter goes over the traditional four elements and talks about household representations for them (wind chimes for air, pet bowls for water, for example), which areas of the home represent each element, ways to add the elements to your home, how to teach your children (if you have any) about the elements, and associations with the elements such as deities, drinks, foods, and culinary plants and herbs. If you follow a practice that includes use of the elements on a regular basis, this chapter is a useful tool — it’s full of ways to strengthen your connections and relationships with each element, and as in the first one it gives new ideas as for things associated with each element beyond the obvious.
Part 3: Domestic Deities and Household Guardian Spirits. This chapter is a long list of possible domestic deities or household spirits the domestic witch could include in their practice. Bradley is clear that this list is meant as a jumping off point and encourages readers to do their own research! This, I approve of greatly. There is also a bit about creating a house for a guardian spirit to put near your hearth, and how to take care of that house and keep your guardian happy. The list of deities and spirits includes beings from many different cultures, not just the usual suspects. Judging by what knowledge I have already (in some spots good, in some spots sketchy), it’s not a bad list for a jumping off point, which is its intended purpose. Your mileage may vary.
Part 4: Magical Recipes. In this chapter Bradley goes over powdered herbal blends, simmering incense (when you simmer things on the stove to create scent), magical oils, house/floor washes, floor sweeps, and a section for miscellaneous concoctions that don’t fit in the other sections. Bradley designed these recipes to be quick and convenient and, though I haven’t tested them out yet, on paper they appear to be so. I found this chapter to be full of good ideas that I plan on trying, including some things that I’d never heard of before but sound pretty cool (like the black salt recipe she gives, or the bit about jupiter/thunder water).
Part 5: The Domestic Witch’s Herbal. This is easily the biggest part of the book, stretching from p. 83 to p. 142. This section contains a list of herbs that you can easily find in your pantry, spice cabinet, or the local grocery store. Each entry not only includes magical associations and uses, but also culinary tips, and lists the forms the item might come in (e.g.: Almond […] extract, flour, oil, nut, paste, marzipan, milk — p.85, Mrs. B’s Guide to Household Witchery). At the beginning of each entry is also a little tidbit about the item, whether historical or from folklore — I haven’t verified these, though some I have heard before. At the end of the chapter is a section on “Instant Magic” where Bradley talks about using prepackaged spice mixes. As a modern kitchen witch…I kinda love this, and have now found a new use for the Montreal steak spice we have that’s not as good as the brand we prefer.
Part 6: Simple Sabbats for the Busy Witch. Obviously this section will be useless to you if you don’t follow the neoPagan Wheel of the Year. For those of us who do, however, even if we try to divorce ourselves from some of the more Wiccish aspects of the holidays, it’s a useful chapter — especially if you’re looking for simple ways to celebrate the 8 holidays that don’t break the spoon bank. Each holiday has a 5-minute solo ritual that is super simple and easy to do, a slightly more involved group ritual that you can hold with friends or family, and ideas on how to involve your kids in the holiday and teach them about it. They’re written from a Wiccish perspective, but can easily be edited to fit one’s own practices.
The appendices are, in order: Herbs and Foods Listed by Need; Magical Use of Oils; Correspondences by God or Goddess Name. The second appendix is quite useful in that it goes into not only magical uses for oils like Jojoba or Almond or Sesame, but also culinary bits, like smoke point and how to safely cook with said oil.
Things I really liked
- Accessibility: a huge problem with some witchcraft books is they make everything seem so impossible. You have to do big things for the sabbats! You have to use these exotic herbs! Witchcraft is totes complicated! Bradley makes it clear that witchcraft doesn’t have to be complicated, you don’t have to use exotic herbs, and holidays can be really simple and not drain you dry (or make you feel guilty for not participating). Honestly, even though this is a book geared towards people who have their own homes and families, if I’d had this book when I was a teenager first exploring Neo-Wicca I might have actually done things for the sabbats on a regular basis and created a practice around those 8 holidays. The books I was reading made it seem like those holidays were BIG DEALS and so whatever I did had to be a BIG DEAL as well. But you can do a ritual in 5 minutes and still honor the spirit of the day before getting back to your three essays and 6 hour rehearsals (high school was a busy time).
- Focus on the Craft itself: Bradley doesn’t spend time going into theology, NeoPagan history, or any of that stuff that many books spend at LEAST a chapter on. This book is all about practicing witchcraft. By and large she leaves the theology up to you. There’s mention of “Lord and Lady”/”God and Goddess” in some of the written bits of rituals, but as I said — easily changed.
- Making the mundane holy: Bradley’s focus in this book is on domestic witchcraft — turning every day chores into acts of magic or devotion. This is something that matters a lot to me (hence the blog title) and something that I’m always searching for inspiration regarding. I found a lot of inspiration in this book.
- Concrete ideas for raising little witches: one of the things I’m constantly thinking about as a future parent is how to include my future kids in my religion and/or witchcraft. I have lots of abstract ideas, but not many concrete ones. This book is full of concrete activities and things that I can do to include my kids in my religious or witching life. For that alone this book is staying on my shelf for a long time.
Every book has its problems, and this one is no exception. I personally find they don’t detract from the overall value of the work; again, YMMV.
- Use of the word “smudging” to describe smoke cleansing. Smudging is actually a specific ritual, but the word is often used to describe all forms of smoke cleansing. There’s nothing wrong with burning some of your favourite herb to cleanse a space, but please realize it’s not smudging. (I used the word wrong for many, many years, so if you’ve been using it wrong you’re not alone! It happens to a lot of people; common mistake. We’re all only human.)
- Referencing “Native American tradition” when talking about dreamcatchers as a possible way to help with nightmares. I can’t really blame Bradley for referring to Native American cultures as a monolith on this subject — while dreamcatchers are traditionally Ojibwe or Lakota, they were adopted as a symbol by the Pan-Indian movement a while ago and have since become sort of synonymous with Native American or First Nations cultures as a whole. So it’s understandable. On the subject of dreamcatchers themselves and their use: this is a touchy subject, for obvious reasons. Personally, as a mixed-race American Indian person, I do not have issues with people using dreamcatchers to help with their nightmares or their child’s nightmares — mainly because I suffer from such awful, horrible nightmares that if a dreamcatcher helps someone — especially a child — not suffer nightmares that is more important to me than issues that may come with the use of dreamcatchers. However, I also don’t speak for all NDNs, and I realize lots of people consider the use of dreamcatchers by non-NDNs to be cultural appropriation.
- Use of the word “gypsy”. In the herbal section, Bradley refers to “old gypsy lore” regarding beans. There’s also a book by Charles Godfrey Leland listed in the bibliography that is apparently about “gypsy” fortune-telling. Obviously, this is an issue, but it’s something I’m willing to give Bradley a pass on. Why? Because back in 2012 I’m pretty sure I wasn’t aware “gypsy” was a racial slur, and that’s when this book was published (which means it was finished far earlier, as the publishing process is quite long when you go through an actual publishing house and don’t self-publish). Since then I’ve learned, but it’s still a new piece of information for a LOT of people, especially in pagan circles. I’m hopeful that someday it’s common enough knowledge that people can’t be given a pass on it, but in this case I’m willing to let it slide. As always, YMMV.
3.5 Broomsticks out of 5. Overall, I really liked Bradley’s writing style and the different ideas she brought to the realm of domestic witchcraft. She made witchcraft accessible and inspired me in a lot of ways. The few problems were not enough to detract from the overall value of the work, and it’s a book I plan on keeping on my shelf for a long time. I recommend this book not only for the intended audience — adults in charge of their own houses looking for ways to incorporate magic into their everyday lives and the lives of their family members — but also for teenagers who are exploring witchcraft or neo-Wicca, or college students who are limited in resources/supplies.