Book Review: Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living by Melusine Draco

Today, I’ll be taking a look through “Traditional Witchcraft: For Urban Living” by Melusine Draco. (heads up, will contain my own opinions and beliefs~)


Now, I purchased this book for about $1, which definitely isn’t a bad deal. I was a bit skeptical of this book being worth a look through, but I went with it anyways. I’ll do a more detail looked at specific chapters, and then an overall critique at the end. Here we go~

Chapter 1: A Pagan Perspective 

She starts out pointing out that it is A-OK with being a witch (and even a pagan) living in the city. She then later discusses the old definitions of the term “Pagan” and how they do not really apply to the word in today’s context. She states, “In contemporary society, ‘pagan’ is now the accepted umbrella term for those who follow any eclectic, reconstructionalist doctrines of pre-Christian beliefs.” He also states next that a witch is a witch, no matter where they live. Which, I definitely agree with.

Witchcraft is a practice that is not limited to the wilds and secret places. It can be found in cities, towns, and urban places. Urban places may be less “psychic friendly” as he puts it, but she also states that there are three key ways to flourish in such a place, “acclimatize, adapt and improvise.” The creative witch is the one that survives and blossoms in the city. She then lists 4 exercises and examples of his three key ways: Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. The exercises show creative ways that urban witches can be with their craft.

After this, I was quite surprised. She states: “We also need to accept that witchcraft (unlike Wicca) is not a religion – it never has been, simply because it’s an individual’s natural ability that distinguishes him or her as a witch.” It isn’t very often that I find an ebook that makes such a statement. It is a nice change. I do agree with her there.

Her next statement? Kinda, kinda not: “A witch is born, not made.” At times, I struggle with the idea that people become witches because they are born with such an ability and talent. But in my personal opinion, I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with the idea of a natural born witch. I certainly do believe that people are physically born with the witch blood. This blood was passed on from the first witches, those who were born of fairies. However, it is not limited to physical flesh and bone.

The witch blood can also be passed on spiritually. It can even be gained or granted. Why granted? There are old charms and tales of individuals calling to the fairies to be granted the witches’ skill. Tales of people calling to the devil and being initiated into the practice of witchcraft. It is something that can be given from spirits and even the witch ancestors. After this bit, she goes on to tell the differences between Wicca, Paganism, and witchcraft. She tosses out the motto of “Harm none”, and rather states “Touch not the [wild] cat without a glove.” She even compares Wicca and witchcraft. Wicca being a domesticated cat, and witchcraft being a feral cat. I rather enjoyed his comparison of the two, and how witchcraft is different from Paganism and Wicca. It was a rather nice thing to read.

Chapter 2 and 3: The Unofficial Country side and Wildlife at your doorstep

In both of these chapters, she explores ways of bringing “nature” into your home and learning of the local environment and land of your urban location. In chapter 2, she talks about the hidden places that nature takes hold. Take time to notice the local plant life. She also talks about wort-lore. Personally, I enjoyed this, since I am a big herbal and plant gal. It is a thing in my fairy doctoring. She goes over the medical uses of herbs and the magical uses as well.

She suggests to try going “Wild gathering” (or better yet “Urban gathering”) and learn of local plant life to incorporate in your work. She also points out small gardens in pots work well. She lists a couple of spells in these chapters. In chapter 3, she provides spell work for local animal life. A spell for banishing pests (like roaches and rats). She then also speaks of “Totem animals”, but states she merely uses this term is “familiar to all”. I have mixed feelings about using the word totem, but it didn’t bother me too much. At the very least, she didn’t make claim to indigenous faiths.

Chapter 4: The Urban ‘Shadow World’

In this chapter, she starts out talking about historical references and cases of urban witches. One example she makes is, “The day before the coronation of Richard I in 1189, a proclamation had been made forbidding the attendance of witches at the ceremony at Westminster, although no official reason for the ban appears to have been recorded. Nevertheless, the presences of witches in London must have been a fairly common occurrence if a royal proclamation had to be issued to keep them away on that specific day.” I find it was cool to start out the chapter in this way. Referring to witchcraft, at least back in the day, as a sort of “black market” activity. It remained hidden, unspoken, but recognizable to those that know the signs.

She later states that there is nothing with being open in your practices, especially in today’s world. However, she talks about the the power and inspiration that comes from more subtle and hidden items of power. She then lists 4 different types of physical items: Witch’s Pouch and power objects, and Talismans and Amulets. For the first two, she definitely goes into more folk type magic. Many cunning folk (such as fairy doctors) would have secret items of power used to treat illnesses, determine ailments, and give sight into particular things. She talks about what makes a ‘power item’ what it is, and the container for them ‘the witch’s pouch’. For the talismans and amulets section, she talks about the difference of the two, and how you can create them.

Overall, I rather enjoyed this chapter. She focused more on more historical practices and physical, folk magic practices. Both of which, I enjoy a lot in my own practice.

Chapter 5: Observance and Celebration

I was a bit surprised by this chapter. When having read the first chapter, I had thought she would not include Neopagan practices in this book. To be honest, I somewhat glanced over this chapter. I’m not all that interested in Neopagan holidays, though I do observe them at times. I am more of a Witches’ Sabbat girl (esbats). However, she did separate his sections of the seasonal holidays and equinoxes/solstices to be a bit more “witchy” in nature. If you’re familiar with these holidays, a quick skim is all you really need. Nothing too exciting here. I was a bit disappointed. I thought she would make these practices a bit more “Urban-ized”.

Chapter 6: Magical Techniques for Confined Spaces

She starts out talking about circles and circle casting, “What we need to have foremost in our mind is the concept of protection and containment.” Circle casting, especially with the use of elemental directions, is a bit more ceremonial than I like. However, witches of old did participate in similar practices of setting “sacred” and “empowered” grounds to hold their Sabbats and magical rites.

However, I don’t believe that it is needed for every magical act. For protection, a witch can set up wards to stay active for a long time. They can also create other forms of protection, such as the witch’s bottle. But, I won’t go on too much about that, Melusine talks about cleansing and grounding, prior to magical work and circle casting. A good basic to resort to, especially in the city setting. She even references “setting the compass”, which is a traditional witchcraft term for “laying the circle”. Later, she addresses that magical practices can sometimes be a “double edged sword”. If not careful, the power can actually bite back. I feel it is a rather good warning. To, be careful what you do, since the results will fall directly back on you (within certain situations).

In reference to different types of spellwork, she talks about different sorts of spells. And rather, sarcastically (I think?), makes a reference to certain love spells being “scary black magic”. She talks about magic not being a “fix all” thing. And that sometimes, you just need to do something for the best results. The rest of the chapter, she talks about times to perform magic, their correspondences, where you can get spells and charms, etc. Nothing too exciting for someone familiar with this stuff. Chapter

7: Developing the art of ‘Seeing’ 

A chapter  about divination, and a brief summary of how to do them. Nothing too exciting. Though, it was the first time I have heard of Uromancy, which I thought was pretty cool. haha~

Chapter 8: Green Peace

Tips and ideas for growing your own garden in an urban space. It has a lot of suggestions and ideas. Some of which I didn’t think of. And, it has a lovely ritual for dedicating a space for your witchy garden~

Chapter 9: Spiritual Transformation

The author attempts to tackle the question “What do witches believe?” She does affirm with her previous statement, of witchcraft not being of one religion. Rather, she talks about witch traditions and their connections to Christian practices (most of which absorbed the local pagan practices). This chapter was rather interesting. It mostly discussed the idea that Christian practices (especially folk Christianity) contained practices of paganism and some history of witchcraft. She then goes into the idea of faith vs religion. Witchcraft being a practice of faith and spirituality vs of religious doctrines. The author then talks about ethics, morality and magic stating “traditional Craft is governed by the personal morality of the individual.” This idea, I thoroughly agree with.

The morality and ethics of witchcraft is fluid at best. It is not cut and dry compared to many other things. It is very crooked.

She later states: ” A traditional witch does not set themselves up as a guardian of public sensibilities, neither do they feel the need to take responsibility for society’s short-comings. This is not because the witch is cruel and unfeeling, it is just that they see things from a much broader viewpoint, including the sad reality that mankind causes much of its own misfortune. We may choose to help on a local, or personal level, but this is the decision of the individual, and not due to any social duty or obligation. In a nutshell … we merely after our own.” This, I do disagree with. A witch can be cut away from society (and that is their choice), but witchcraft is a magical practice of rebellion. It’s very existence is the rejection of oppressive bodies. Though it might be just my view, I feel a witch can’t truly be separate from the world. We are apart of it, and should protect what we stand for, tooth and nail. In the words of Aradia; “And thou shalt be the first of witches known; And thou shalt be the first of all i’ the world; And thou shalt teach the art of poisoning, Of poisoning those who are great lords of all; Yea, thou shalt make them die in their palaces; And thou shalt bind the oppressor’s soul (with power).” 

Chapter 10: Moving on

For some weird reason, I got a very weird vibe from this chapter. It felt very ‘elitist’ in a way. A few sections felt she was talking of “fake witches” merely in it for the attention. She talks about a few fads that both “real” and “fake” witches fall into. To list a few below

  • obsessed with finding a teacher- and listening to their every whim
  • people seeking something to fill a void- she uses people stealing from Eastern Religions to fill in the gap
  • merely practicing for the physical aesthetic. Faking it to get the attention
  •  Sticking only with the newest thing, and ditching the rest.

I did a rather quick read of this chapter, finding it a bit unnecessary and kinda unfitting for the rest of the chapter. Though, it somewhat fits with the “Deepening the meaning behind your practice” theme of this chapter.

The next section talks about going into the unknown. The author states there are certain parts of witchcraft that are looked with wary eyes, even by fellow witches and pagans. The “Crossing of the dark river” as the author puts it. It felt a bit whiny in the first part of this section, stating your perception will change and your mind will “transition from one psychic state, or level of consciousness, to another” and that a lot of people won’t be accepting of your changes.

Towards the end of this chapter, she talks the discussion of “Natural ability or illusion”. The fear of faking our own power. She states witchcraft is more than “mind over body” and a “feel good factory”. It is real and causes actual reactions. As she states, “If you ain’t scared shitless, you ain’t doing it right!”

She talks about the idea of “playing at it” rather than actually performing magical actions. This, I can understand. I have participated in rites and rituals where nothing happened. The hosts were merely going through the actions. Spirits never arrived. In compared to some Sabbat rites, I was so scared once that I ran back to my friend. I needed to be comforted. Some might see this as a bit judgmental, but I am one to agree that witchcraft is more than just “going through the steps”. If nothing happens, what is the point?

Overall

I had sections that I enjoyed, some that I didn’t, and some that were rather boring. I agreed with a lot of what she said, but some I definitely didn’t. This book is definitely opinionated, and there are some bits of information that don’t have any sources. Not too many, but a few. So those that enjoy their sources, may be a bit annoyed with some sections.

For me, I only took a few bit of things from this. Most of this, I was already familiar or easily grasped the idea. Then again, I enjoy books that are more about actual practice, rather then theory and discussion.

In conclusion, I give this book 3 stars out of 5. It’s alright, especially compared to a lot of ebooks being published today. Definitely is more about witchcraft (rather than Wicca or Paganism), but can be a bit boring for more knowledgeable and experienced practitioners.

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