A magical lifestyle guide for everything from powering up a stylish crystal to banishing terrible Tinder dates
Want to feel terrifyingly beautiful? Wear the right colour of eyeshadow to project otherworldly glamour. Need to exorcise a toxic friendship? Repeat the proper incantation and make it disappear. Want to increase your energy? Whip up a tasty herbal “potion” to rev up your stamina. DIY projects, rituals, and spells—along with fun historical sidebars—summon the best trends of the modern witchy lifestyle and the time-trusted traditions of the hell-raising women of the past. With humour, heart, and a hip sensibility, Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman dispense witchy wisdom for the curious, the cynical, and anyone who could use a magical boost. – Quirk Books
Heads up Y’all, this is going to be a long one.
This tiny little tome has caused just a medium amount of controversy since it’s release, and I’ll admit that that was a small incentive for me to check it out and review it. I went in with high and positive expectations, though, and I wasn’t all that disappointed. Though it’s not perfect (but what is?!) and I would mainly recommend it to young witches or those that are exploring witchcraft thanks to the MOMENT witchiness is having right now, I am so excited that this book exists to paint an incredibly accurate and relatable portrait of the face of witchcraft RIGHT NOW.
I’ll admit that I might be slightly biased. One of the authors, Jaya Saxena, interviewed me for the Daily Dot during the hexing of brock turner and she a fantastic job. I was so nervous about it, and I was so proud of how it turned out I printed out a copy and sent it to my mom haha. LOOK MOM, I’M HEXING RAPISTS! So I was already curious and excited about the book. Add in the INCREDIBLE illustrations by Camille Chew and I was like BURSTING AT THE SEEMS to get this book.
You will never get tired of looking at it. The illustrations are great, the colours are fun and witchy, and the book is going to look great on my witch shelf forever. It’s laid out in a way that’s easy to follow and read, it’s relatable and covers a wide range of topics. It mixes spells with personal stories, social justice and political info related to the current witch movement, super interesting blurbs of history, and a bunch of hilarious little illustrations that had me genuinely cackling. Even the parts that I knew I’d never use for my own practice were entertaining and interesting.
There were a few things that bothered me, or just made it clear this was more suited to a younger or newer witch. A few things I only skimmed, a few things I wrinkled my nose at.
The one thing I really disliked came near the end of the book. It’s not super serious, more annoying.
“White magic is done when your energy is high, when you feel loved and happy and fulfilled, and it creates more of those feelings in the world. Black magic is performed out of fear and anger, a final thrashing of panic in order to survive, and it creates more fear and uncertainty.”
This is something I talked about in the last #WitchNBitch episode, actually – Episode 21 – #WitchNBitch: How White Witches Talk About Black Magick – the linguistic implications of “white magic” and “black magic” are just glaringly icky. It also has a slightly judgemental tone even though curses do appear in the book, as does a section on demons vs. daemons. It just felt… gimmicky? This was really the only time throughout the book that the issue of the authors being non-witches or non-practicing witches or witches who don’t believe in the occult or whatever but are writing a witch book came up for me in the actual content. It felt like they were working cliche witch lingo into an otherwise decent chapter just to make it fit the aesthetic. I don’t really dig it.
I mentioned this book in my recent post – #WitchnBitch Topic: Witch, Ya Basic! – because the book made me ask myself a (series of) question(s) I still don’t have a solid answer to: do you have to practice magic to be a witch? what do I mean by magic? What even gives me the right to decide whether or not someone gets to call themselves a witch? As a secular practitioner my self I wasn’t really bothered by the fact that neither author practices witchcraft as part of an established pagan religion, or that they’re atheists or secular practitioners or whatever. Actually, I found myself wondering how refreshing that would have been to find when I was young or getting started. I balked a bit at one of the authors, Jess Zimmerman, outright saying she does not believe in the occult or MAGIC really. That’s one thing that is so fundamental to my being a witch is that I firmly believe magic can be real. I also believe it’s possible for some witches to talk to ghosts and they imply that’s something only fiction witches do.
For many, the book looked like a capitalist joke, some way to sell Instagram witch aesthetic stuff to tweens. I saw a few folks calling it white bullshit and calling it the “Taylor swift of witchcraft” which to me lets me know that they haven’t read it. The artwork, language, and types of spells are really inclusive and very relatable. There are all different types of spells in here, some that don’t even use tools, let alone anything expensive! The tools and things you need are almost exclusively found in your home or a local everyday type of store. There aren’t any brands mentioned. They don’t tell you to spend money on getting the perfect set of witch tools and altar set up. There’s no outlandish herbs or rare crystals, and you could covertly buy any of the spell ingredients without setting off alarm bells. Honestly, those are the BEST spells for young people and people starting out! There are some ingredients spells called for in books from high school that I’ve still never seen ANYWHERE. The book encourages picking up things in nature, meditating, sculpting and sketching, and using items that have deep personal meaning because those things have magic. That is so not capitalist swill.
I also think all of the little drawings are funny and cute! Witchy nail art? Hilarious magical familiar profiles? LOL. Tea leaf reading diagrams that include the last supper? I was cackling, Y’all, CACKLING. It was funny! and Adorable! and I am now fullllllly obsessed with finding myself a body positive fat faux-mermaid manatee familiar. I’m so down for that lifestyle.
My first time through it I thought I was going to give this book 3 crystal balls because though I liked it, I couldn’t imagine needing to reference it and there were a lot of people to whom I wouldn’t recommend it at all. Then I started going through it again, marking pages and looking at the spells a little more in-depth and my book is suddenly full of post-its and dog ears. Despite being a witch and feminist for a long time, I know I’m not going to be hip forever. LET’S BE REAL AM I EVEN HIP NOW? I need to know where witchcraft is going and how magic and witchcraft can influence even more people and help them, yes, RAISE HELL WITH THEIR COVEN (ugh, respect). Not only that, but I can only imagine a new crop of witchy kids picking out their first books as they’re starting to figure out that their life is their own, picking up this book because it’s hella cute and coming out of it with inclusive book that doesn’t preach a heavy religion, and allows them to try new things, and teaches them to communicate with their friends and loved ones, and exercise their rights, and advocate for themselves. All with crystals in their pocket and hopefully a cockatiel as a familiar on their shoulder. That makes me feel good. This book makes me feel good about the future and even present of witchcraft and magic and self-empowerment.
Basic Witches, surprise, might not be for seasoned witches, or those who practice as part of a religion but it has tremendous value for a whole new crop of badass feminist witches who will have the poor and courage to define themselves and their own strength. I liked it, Y’all. I liked it a lot.
You can get BASIC WITCHES on Amazon and at most retailers, even ones that don’t sell witchcraft tools or pagan items at all! You might actually have to request it at your local witch shop!
You can learn more about and get the book, and even order merch direct from Quirk, the publisher at quirkbooks.com/basicwitches
You can find Jaya Saxena at her website or on twitter.
You can find Jess Zimmerman through her writing at The Guardian, and Electric Lit , of which she is Editor-in-Chief, and of course on twitter.